Translated by Charis Messier
Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen: One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan
Written by Keisuke Yamada
Kenrokuen is one of Japan's famous places of scenic beauty and is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kairakuen in Ibaraki and Kōrakuen in Okayama.
The majority of Japanese imagine a Japanese garden as a place where ponds, hills, and the land itself is utilized. They also associate it with the image of rocks and vegetation and imagine it as a place where moss grows beautifully. However, it is likely that people raised outside of Japan, and particularly in the West, will find Japanese gardens to be curious and strange.
Do you know the reason why?
It's because we likely have a different view of moss than the Japanese do, making us not see it in the same light.
Those of us born outside of Japan might have a different sense of aesthetic beauty when it comes to gardens. We are more used to seeing gardens that have been artificially created by humans who attentively care for them. To us, perhaps, this is what we imagine as a beautiful garden. For example, we find beauty in meticulously cutting our lawn to the preferred length, and in the water fountains that spray water into the air through artificial means.
On the other hand, gardens that emphasize nature are considered beautiful by the Japanese. Moss is a key element, as it can grow naturally and without a helping hand from people. Moss is also the natural enemy of neatly grown lawn, because moss inhibits its growth. Hence why it might be inevitable for people who find beauty in gardens with vegetation like lawn to be curious why the Japanese let moss prevail in their gardens.
Kanazawa's Kenrokuen 兼六園 is one of the gardens you could say is symbolic of Japanese gardens.
This time we will be introducing the beautiful world of Kanazawa's Kenrokuen with lots of pictures.
What is Kenrokuen 兼六園?
Kenrokuen 兼六園 is one of Japan's Famous Places of Scenic Beauty and it is also one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture and Kōrakuen in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture. Kenrokuen is a Japanese-style garden that was created during the mid-seventeenth century outside of Kanazawa Castle with the purpose of being able to enjoy the ever-changing four seasons in a place you could walk through.
One of Kenrokuen's distinct features is the large pond in the center that has small islets and bridges placed in various locations.
We will next explain each of the unique features that make up a part of Kenrokuen.
Hisago-ike Pond 瓢池
The area surrounding Hisago-ike Pond was once called Renchi-tei 蓮池庭 (Lotus Pond Garden), and it is said that this pond's surroundings were where Kenrokuen was first started as a garden. The origin of the pond's name came from how the center of the pond looked like it was in the shape of a gourd 瓢箪 (hyōtan). The first kanji in the Japanese word for gourd is also the first kanji of the pond's Japanese name.
Kaiseki Pagoda 海石塔
Kaiseki Pagoda is the 4.1 meter (13.5 feet) high pagoda that stands on the island floating in the center of Hisago-ike Pond. Six gray stones with holes are piled on top of each other to make the pagoda.
A stone bridge leads you to Kaiseki Pagoda, allowing visitors to get a feel for a Japanese garden.
Statue of Yamato Takeru 日本武尊像
A statue of Yamato Takeru stands in the dead center of Kenrokuen. Yamato Takeru is a hero whose name and tale has been passed down in Japan since long ago.
Built by casting craftsmen in 1880, this statue is known as the very first bronze statue built in Japan.
Ohanamatsu お花松 is the name that refers to the two Japanese red pines on both sides of the Yamato Takeru Statue. The pine trees were sent by the Honganji Temple in Kyotowhen the statue was built. Just like in the picture, the pine trees grandly extend their limbs sideways. The impressiveness of their large size up-close leaves a lasting impression.
Kōmon Bridge 黄門橋
Kōmon Bridge 黄門橋 is known as Aotomuro-ishi and is made from stones that were mined in East Kanazawa. The center of the bridge is raised and has the unique feature of having curves in it that look like bows. Also, this unique bridge is made from a slab of stone, but it was creatively crafted to look like two slabs of stone overlapping each other.
Kotoji Stone Lantern 徽軫灯籠
The two-legged stone structure on the right side of the above picture is the Kotoji Stone Lantern 徽軫灯籠. The scene captured by this image is considered to be the representative scenery for Kenrokuen. This is a lantern that has been converted from the typical short three-legged stone lantern that illuminates the water surface in most gardens, to a taller height of 2.67 meters (8.7 feet). With a single glance, we can see the scene of this lantern, the Japanese maple tree beside it, and the pond.
Sazae-yama 栄螺山 ("Shellfish Hill")
Sazae-yama Hill is an artificial hill that was built with the dirt that was dug up to build the pond. It reaches a height of 9 meters (29.5 feet), and is what the pagoda in the above picture was built on. The path up to the summit winds around clockwise, making the people of the time think of it like the sazae seashell, from which its Japanese name comes from.
How was our presentation of Kenrokuen?
Kenrokuen has so many different features you could almost say that it has everything about Japanese gardens packed in it.
There are many more places at Kenrokuen that give the feeling of a full-fledged Japanese garden that you can glimpse from these pictures.
How about visiting Kenrokuen for yourself?
Address:Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture Marunouchi 1-1 920-0937
Opening Hours: 7:00am-6pm ※10/16-2/29 8:00am-5:00pm
Closing Days: Never closes for holidays
Nearest Station: JR Kanazawa Station
Access: Take either a bus at terminal No.3 at the East Gate or a bus at terminal No. 5 at the West Gate of the bus stop in front of Kanazawa station (takes about 13 minutes). Get off at Kenrokuen Garden・Kanazawa Castle Park bus stop and walk for about 2 more minutes to the garden.
Fee: 310 yen for adults
100 yen for children older than 6 and younger than 18 (make sure to inform them of the ages beforehand)
Free for children age 5 and younger and seniors 65 and older (must provide proof)
Tour Guide Fee: 1500 yen
Phone Number: +81 76-234-3800
Official Website: http://www.pref.ishikawa.jp/siro-niwa/kenrokuen/e/index.html