The name «Kanazawa», which literally means «marsh of gold», is said to derive from the legend of the peasant Imohori Togoro (lit. «Togoro Potato-digger»), who was digging for potatoes when flakes of gold washed up. The well in the grounds of Kenrokuen known as 'Kinjo Reitaku' (金城麗澤)was recreated by the Maeda lords to acknowledge these roots. The area where Kanazawa is was originally known as Ishiura, and the Ishiura Shrine near Kenrokuen is a remnant of this period.
The centre of the castle town was the castle. While many castle towns in Japan had the castle placed to one side of the city, Kanazawa spread out concentrically from the castle site. Kanazawa Castle itself largely burned down in 1888, but there are a few buildings remaining, notably the Ishikawa Gate and the Sanjikken Longhouse, and one large section has been painstakingly rebuilt to authentic standards of construction. The castle site dates back to the fifteenth century, when it was the centre of power for the Ikkō-ikki, which was a Buddhist sect that had overthrown the old regional governors, the Togashi clan, and established what is called «The Peasant's Kingdom» in the district of Kaga, the southern part of present-day Ishikawa Prefecture.
During the fifteenth century, the powers of the central Shoguns in Kyoto was waning, and their regional governors were assuming even greater powers, carving out their own little fiefs. In Kaga, the priest Rennyo, of the Jodo Shinshu sect, arrived in the Kaga region to proselytise. Rennyo's brand of Buddhism quickly spread among the samurai and peasants. The followers of Rennyo were directly under the control of the central Honganji in Kyoto, and were known as the Ikko sect, the «Single-Minded» sect. At the time, due to the diminishing power of the hereditary regional governors, the Togashi, central control over the region was weak, which allowed groups of Rennyo converts to increase their political ambitions, leading to the suicide of the last Togashi governor in 1488.