Kenrokuen, Kanazawa: a ‘Most Beautiful’ Garden

On the Tuesday morning I left my friends in Iga Ueno and journeyed north to Kanazawa. Looking at the proximity of Kanazawa to Iga on the map I naively thought I could take a direct train from one to the other. Japan is bigger than it looks on the map though and even Japan’s excellent public transport network must have its limits. In the end I had to catch a train to Kyoto and then take a ‘Special Limited Express’ back out to Kanazawa, so the journey was rather longer than expected.

It was well worth the arduous journey though, as the purpose of my visit was to see Kenrokuen, the second of Japan’s ‘three most beautiful gardens’ visited thus far on my TRIAD travels. Regular readers of this blog might remember that I’d found my first visit to a ‘most beautiful garden’ – Mito Kairakuen – rather disappointing, so I was not sure what I would find at Kenrokuen. I am glad to say though that Kenrokuen more than lives up to this accolade; the garden is as sublime as all the guide books say.

To give you a little background the land where Kenrokuen sits was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. When in 1676 the 5th domain lord Maeda Tsunanori removed the garden house to the castle and replaced it with a rest house he developed a beautiful landscape garden – called ‘Renchi-tei’ – around it. Maeda’s garden and resthouse were destroyed by fire in 1759 but were artfully restored by the 11th domain lord, Harunaga. Harunaga and several of the lords who succeeded him made their own marks on the gardens, between them expanding the pond and adding winding streams, stone bridges, lanterns, tea houses and a waterfall. The name ‘Kenrokuen’, which was given during the time of the 12th domain lord, is taken from ancient Chinese poetry and is a reflection of the garden’s perfect beauty. According to Japanese tradition this typical Edo era strolling style landscape garden has the six attributes of a perfect landscape garden – spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourses and panoramas.

As well as being consistently voted one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens, Kenrokuen is also designated a ‘National Site of Scenic Beauty’ and a ‘National Site of Specific Scenic Beauty’.

Significant features include :-

Winding streams flanked by floriferous cherries and full of Japanese Iris.

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Gankobashi. The ‘flying wild geese bridge’ is made of 11 red tomuro stones laid out to resemble wild geese flying in formation.

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Karasakinomatsu Pine – sown from seed by the 13th domain lord Nariyasu this impressive pine is each year protected from snow by a huge yuki-tsuri.

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Kasumigaike Pond

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Ishikawamon Gate – built in 1788 as the back gate to Kanazawa Castle.

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And much more besides.

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Oh and incidentally, if you ever see a stone tied with rope set out in the middle of a path like this it mean ‘no entry’.

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Much as I enjoyed the beautiful garden and town I was quite to leave the next morning. Such is my geography that I hadn’t realised quite how far north Kanazawa really was – turns out it was right up near Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, where I’d made that trip in early February to see snow taller than me! Brrr… it wasn’t much warmer here today! I was sad to wave goodbye to the beautiful sakura though – the cherry blossom here in Kanazawa is some of the most spectacular in all of Japan.

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