Kenrokuen Garden: A Sight For All Seasons

With the fast pace of life, it is important in today’s world to take a break and center oneself with nature. Because Japan has a history that is so deeply rooted in Zen, mindfulness and respecting the environment, there is a distinct presence of many beautiful gardens around the country that offer a space of tranquility, and appreciation of flora.

Visit the Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, Ishikawa

Nestled within the capital city of the Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, the Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園) holds with bountiful stories of the past and natural beauty. It is part of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”, beside the two other gardens, which are Okayama’s Korakuen, and Mito’s Kairakuen. Kenrokuen garden is sometimes referred to as the “Six Attributes Garden”, and is a private garden that is open during the entire year to the public for viewing.

The History of Kenrokuen Garden in Japan

Just like many gardens in Japan, you truly feel its spirit come alive when you learn about the events that the garden grounds have seen. History gives more meaning and purpose to a location, and Kenrokuen Garden’s history delves deep into post-medieval Japan.

It all started with the Maeda clan, who initially owned the garden and tended to it, beginning 1620’s, reaching all the way until the 1840’s. The Maeda clan were very powerful and had “Daimyo” or Japanese feudal warlords who ruled all of Kanazawa, which at that time was called the Kaga Domain. 

The exact date of the garden’s construction or completion was never discovered and was only estimated by using the Tatsumi water channel’s existence as a point of reference. Maeda Toshitsune created that water channel in 1632; he was the ruler of the Kaga Domain beginning 1605, ending in 1639. 

Not all historians agree on this hypothesis of Kenrokuen’s date of existence. Some say that the garden was formed under the rule of Tsunanori, who was the 5th Daimyo, in power from 1645 until 1723. This is because the Renchiochin house was built by his orders around 1676, and was made to face the Kanazawa castle. The garden at that time was called “Renchitei/Renchi-tei”, or lotus pond in Japanese.

Fire and Loss

In 1759, a fire broke out and ruined much of the original façade of the garden. However, from the period of its creation in the 1600’s up until it was burned down, it was indicated in some ancient documents that this garden was visited by many powerful, wealthy, and important figures in Japanese society. In fact, sources say that they would use the garden to enjoy the simple things in life, such as watching horses frolic around, viewing the leaves as they turned warm colors during autumn, and observing the moon on clear nights. 

Pre-Meiji Restoration

Harunaga, the 11th daimyo, was the first to order the garden to be restored. He was responsible for creating the “Midori-taki”, which is the Emerald Waterfall, and the teahouse called Yugao-tei in 1744. In 1822, more improvements were made in the garden, sourcing water from the Tatsumi Waterway to create winding streams. These were implemented by the 12th daimyo, Narinaga. The next daimyo, Nariyasu, would make the Kasumi Pond even bigger, adding more winding streams. 

Surviving the Fire

Though the fire that plowed through Kenrokuen garden dealt immense damage, the Shugure-tei teahouse remained relatively unscathed. Built in 1725, you can view this teahouse if you stand in the garden’s Renchitei area. It was one of the main attractions of the garden, as it was used in many cultural rituals, gatherings, and celebrations. 

The Kaisekito Pagoda and its Disputed Origin

The Kaisekito Pagoda is another survivor of the 1759’s treacherous fire. Standing by the Hisago-ike pond in an island, the placement of the Kaisekito Pagoda was supposedly handled by lord Toshitsune, born in 1594, and died in 1658. The reason this information is crucial that it gives an idea of exactly when the Kenrokuen garden was truly completed. 

As with many parts of history that are not properly documented, the Pagoda’s origin is also disputed. One theory states that it is from a pagoda that had 13 tiers, initially situated in Kanazawa castle’s Gyokusen garden. The other theory states that this pagoda was a structure that Kato Kiyomasa had specially shipped from Korea after a military incursion. He then presented this gift to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who handed the gift over to Maeda Toshiee. 

There are historians who say that both these theories could possibly be correct. The 13-tiered pagoda which was in Hideyoshi’s possession could have been given to Maeda Toshiie, who ended up locating in in Gyokusenin Garden, which would be transferred later on to the taste of a feudal warlord who was in power. 

The Local Legend

There is a well in Kenrokuen that is considered sacred and has a legend known by most of the locals. The story goes that a man named “Togoro”, who was a peasant in around 800 A.D., came to that well to wash potatoes. As he was washing them, the well suddenly started producing golden flakes that would rise to the surface of the water. Thus, the term “Kanazawa”, was given to the name of the area, translating to “Marsh of Gold”. 

That same well is still used today, as the water collected in it is collected at the Shinto shrine’s purification basin. The water from this well is often used in tea ceremonies, which are held in tea houses.

Where did Kenrokuen Get its Name?

Kenrokuen got its name from Matsudaira Sadanobu, another famous daimyo, who was asked by the 12th daimyo, Narinaga to give a title to the garden. He took inspiration from the famous book called “洛陽名園記”, or “Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens, written by Li Gefei (李格非). It is called “Six Attributes Garden”, because it has all the 6 attributes that, when combined, create the best landscape. These attributes are an antiquity, artifice, panoramas, seclusion, spaciousness, and waterways.

Bring that checklist with you when you visit the garden for yourself, and you will be able to personally see how Kenrokuen garden puts all of those attributes together in the most graceful manner. 

About Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen garden measures a little over 25 acres large; 114,436.65 square meters to be exact. It once formed the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. In the Meiji period, this tea house was renovated even more so to preserve its natural beauty and was officially opened on May 7, 1874, for the public to enjoy.

There are around 183 different species of plants that populate the garden, and a count of 8,750 trees. Within this garden also lies Japan’s oldest fountain, whose water pressure is created from a natural source. 

This garden holds a Kotoji-toro. This piece, which is a stone lantern that has two outstretched “legs”, right by the Kasumi pond, is often used to represent the garden, as well as Kanazawa. 

Keep an eye out for the Ganko-bashi, or Flying Geese Bridge. It’s a formation of 11 red stones that lead a path through a small pond. It’s called “flying geese” because that is what the arrangement of rocks are supposed to look like. 

Tsunanori, who was the 5th daimyo, built a rest house called “Shigure-tei”. This was reconstructed in the year 2000 and still stands today. There is also a Karasaki Pine tree, grown from a special seed from Karasaki, which was planted by lord Nariyasu himself. 

Which Season is the Best to Visit Kenrokuen Garden?

While some gardens are known for having a specific season that its true beauty really shines, Kenrokuen garden is recognized for being enchanting, no matter what time of the year it is. As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, and the choice of which season is most appealing is depends on individual. 

Why You Should Visit Kenrokuen Garden During Winter 

Aside from the pristine white snow that falls on most of the surfaces of the garden, turning lush greenery into a winter wonderland, Kenrokuen garden is famous for its “yukitsuri”. Yukitsuri is when a tree has ropes, and bamboo poles attached to it, thus forming the shape of a cone, to give it support in case it gets brittle in the freezing temperatures. This contraption helps support the branches that take the weight of loads of snow. This keeps the trees in-tact, and ready to grow its leaves back in Spring.

Even on a cold winter’s day, the features of the garden still stick out and do not fail to captivate viewers. 

More About The Highly Anticipated Light Up Event Held in 2017

Exactly seven times a year, a “Light Up” event is held in Kenrokuen Garden, where the trees (particularly the yukitsuri during the winters) are illuminated with bright, well-placed lights in the night time, creating a one-of-a-kind vision.

The schedules of when the trees are lit up are different every year. They sometimes hold these events for viewing the harvest moon, or simply to celebrate the beginning of autumn, to display the changing leaf colors. In late January, it highlights the strings tugged by bamboo poles, holding up the trees, and the blankets of snow that envelope the ground, rocks, and plants. 

In summer, it gives a moment to enjoy the cicadas chirping as the trees begin to dry, while in spring, you get to see the cherry blossoms in its full, glorious evening glow.

Why You Should Visit Kenrokuen Garden During Autumn

Most of those 8,750 trees will undergo a change in color by November, affected by the Koyo front. It brings with it such a dramatic, vibrant, and warm exquisiteness that some people make it a point to report their observances of this phenomenon and visit particularly during this season. As the leaves begin to fall and cover the floor, it gives Kenrokuen an entirely different twist with the red, brown, yellow, and orange hues, letting you appreciate how mesmerizing nature can be. 

Why You Should Visit Kenrokuen Garden During Summer

While spring turns the cherry blossoms a pinkish white, and the floors are once again filled with its petals, summer is when the garden is at its most neutral state. Here, the deep greens that are inherent to the plants reveal themselves fully, and the temperature is comfortable enough to have a visit without wearing heavy layers. The best part about summers, though, is the firefly viewing events. These are usually held around June or July, and start at around 7:30 PM, and end at 9 PM. Perfect for an evening stroll with your family or loved ones, and for a glimpse of these rare fireflies in action. 

Where to Find a Map of Kenrokuen Garden

You can find a stroll map on the website of the Ishikawa prefecture. To have a copy with you to help guide you during your visit, you can either save the image on your phone or have it printed out. It can be useful to bring a map along with you to be able to plan your routes and learn the locations of certain landmarks within the garden.

Overview of Kenrokuen Garden

With its rich history and stunning vista, visiting this garden is rated as the number 1 thing to do in Kanazawa. In fact, it is rated 4.5-star rating out of 5, from 4,192 reviews. Because it is extremely popular with tourist and visitor groups, it has gained TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. The address of this park is 1-1 Marunouchi, Kanazawa 920-0937, Ishikawa Prefecture. Its telephone number is +81 76-234-3800. The fee to enter is 310 yen for adults, 100 yen for those 6 to 18 years old, and for senior citizens are free entry.

The opening hours of the garden start from 7 AM until 6 PM from March until October 15, 8 AM to 5 PM from October 16 until February. Its early admission hours usually start at 5 AM, but this can reach up to 4 AM from April to August. In February, its early admission hour starts at 6 AM. Those who come during early admission have until the park opens during its regular hours to stay.

The garden is near many hotel and restaurant options. It is a 20-minute bus ride away from the Kanazawa station. It is right across the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.