Gold leaf production in Kanazawa has a long and weighty history dating back 400 years. Since Kanazawa produces 99% of the gold leaf within Japan, gold leaf production has become one the city’s flourishing traditional crafts, with gold-leaf decorated goods featuring in the city’s souvenir stores.
Kanazawa Gold Leaf creates a brilliant and radiant beauty in various kinds of art and architecture, ranging from temples like Kinkakuji-temple to handicrafts such as lacquer ware, Buddhist altars, Buddhist instruments and fabrics.
- Every ruler throughout Japan’s history liked to use gold leaf in buildings and furniture to symbolize his power.
- The gold leaf produced in Kanazawa accounts for more than 98 percent of the total gold leaf production in Japan.
- In 1977, Kanazawa Gold Leaf was first designated a Traditional Craft Product, in the category of materials and equipment.
- When it is first produced, gold leaf is so thin and delicate that even a tiny amount of static electricity can tear it.
- Kanazawa today is the sole remaining production hub of gold leaf.
How Gold Leaf is made
Gold leaf is made by beating gold into an extremely thin sheet, with a thickness of 0.1 to 0.125 millionths of a meter. It is so thin that it disappears if you rub it with your fingers, and light seems to penetrate right through it.
To make it, you first need to melt a gold ingot in a furnace and mix it with 10% of silver, to make the gold soften. After that, pour the liquid gold into a mold to cast it into a bar and lengthen it by rolling.
The beating process comes next. Since gold tends to become charged with static electricity, thin sheets of alloy are sandwiched between thin sheets of paper, one at a time. Beat the paper and the gold with a machine to expand the gold leaf.
When the gold pieces have become thin and large, cut them into four. After that, put them between paper sheets again and then beat. After repeating this a few times, the gold pieces become ‘leaves’.
Since the leaf is so fragile, you need 100 percent focus for the process of foil-beating.
The leaves should then be cut by bamboo scissors, not metal scissors, as gold leaf may stick on metal.
Gold leaf souvenirs
Since Kanazawa is the top producer of gold leaf in Japan, there are numerous gold leaf items available for sale there that you can't find elsewhere. Below are some of the best items you can buy as souvenirs.
Gold leaf cosmetics
Gold leaf is mainly used for handicrafts, such as vessels and ornaments, as well as in the decoration of temples, shrines, Buddhist altars, and Buddhist instruments. But gold leaf is also said to be good for skin, so some stores sell cosmetics containing it.
One store selling these cosmetics is Gold Leaf Sakuda. One of its popular products is its cosmetics series, Bireihi, a lotion made with plenty of homemade gold leaf, and then mixed with highly moisturizing placenta extract.
Kanazawa Ukeian's Uokokkei Castella
Uokokkei Castella is Kanazawa Ukeian’s most famous confectionery, made with eggs from Silkie chickens bred on a farm. It uses the best-quality Silkie eggs from carefully raised chickens, and each of these Castella cakes is baked one by one by a master baker.
The fresh yellow cake tasting of rich eggs is fine-grained and smooth in your mouth, and has a moderately sweet, refined flavor. Uokokkei Castella Kinpaku has gold leaf scattered on it, so it looks gorgeous and is great as a souvenir.
Edible gold leaf
Since ancient times, gold leaf has been known to promote longevity and the functions of the internal organs.
In Kanazawa, it is frequently used to decorate food and drink in a high class and florid manner. One store where this happens is Hakuza. It offers various kinds of edible gold flakes using only the purest gold leaf.
The products offered include edible gold flakes called Kirimawashi, flaky Furitsutsu, and Sprinkle (coming in heart and star shapes).
Gold leaf handicrafts
In Kanazawa, not only can you buy lots of golden crafts, but you can also make some with your own hands. Such crafts include chopsticks or jewelry boxes covered with gold leaf.
Due to its thinness, gold leaf can be neatly attached to both even and uneven surfaces and can be used with diverse materials, such as ceramics and glass.
Some folding screens used to divide or decorate rooms feature gold-leaf sheets of uniform size to gild their entire surface.
Other souvenirs featuring gold leaf, popular among foreign tourists visiting Kanazawa, include owls, or maneki neko (beckoning cats raising their left or right front paw), heralding financial fortune for customers. These are often used as decorative lucky charms, symbols of good fortune in Japan and other countries.
There are many specialty gold leaf stores in Kanazawa, offering different attractions to tourists. Below we recommend some stores best worth visiting.
Sakuda Gold Leaf Store
One of the most popular specialty gold leaf stores is Gold Leaf Sakuda. It was founded in 1919 by a gold leaf artisan and is currently patronized by customers in a variety of fields from all over Japan.
The company has many branches in Kanazawa, but the main store is in the Higashi Chaya-gai district.
Another famous gold leaf store is the Hakuza Shop. Inside there are many things to observe and experience, ranging from the obligatory jewelry, to gold-flake infused drinks, and various cosmetics, including lotions and creams with gold dust. You can even buy a 24k gold mask.
Try the experience yourself
Aside from just buying these authentic Kanazawa souvenirs, you can also have the experience of making the crafts with your own hands.
In the Gold Leaf Store, you can take a tour of the factory, view the production process, and even try some gold-leaf decoration yourself. If you want to try some simple decoration, of objects such as chopsticks, dishes, or jewelry boxes, you can do so in a hands-on workshop.
Explore Kanazawa with Asia Highlights
The gold-leaf experience is something distinctive to Kanazawa and cannot be had in other parts of Japan. At Asia Highlights, we invest special care and attention to make sure you can enjoy your trip to the full.