The Beautiful Kenrokuen Garden
Kenroku-en (兼六園, Six Attributes Garden), located in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan, is an old private garden. It is a gorgeous and expansive park-like garden in the center of Kanazawa and it is the city’s major attraction. Extending over almost 25 acres, it was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, but was opened to the public in 1874.
Kenrokuen is considered one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Here you will find colorful seasonal floral displays, streams, ponds, and waterfalls, stone lanterns, and historical tea houses. Kenrokuen, the name is sometimes translated as “garden of six elements”. Actually it refers to a classical Chinese poem that spoke of the six contrasting features for a truly outstanding garden. These essential elements are: extensive space and quiet seclusion, human artistry and old fashioned elegance, flowing water and distant views.
There are two main entrances to Kenrokuen, with many people arriving from Kanazawa Castle Park across the north-eastern Ishikawamon bridge. The other is is the south-western Mayumizaka eantrance, across from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Enter by the Ishikawamon for the famous view of the Kasumiga Pond and the Kotoji lantern on your right. In winter is the sight of snow-protected pine trees. This is usually the busiest area of the garden. As you continue, you will pass the Meji Memorial to those killed in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877-8. Going straight on, you climb up Yamazaki yama, but bearing right will take you across a meandering stream, full to the brim with irises if you come in summer. In spring time, you can stop at the “hanami bridge” and indulge in photographs under the cherry blossoms.
The garden boasts Japan’s oldest fountain which is powered by natural water pressure and happily combines two of the six traditional elements in one: human artistry and flowing water. The natural rise and fall of the garden pathways will take you to both secluded resting points, and then suddenly open out to expansive views, like that over the Kasumigaike pond. The Yugao-tei tea house on the Hisagoike pond dates from 1774 and is the oldest building in the garden.
One of the best places to retreat to is at the top of either of the two small hills in the garden – Yamazaki yama is at the back of garden as you come in past the Kasumiga ike (pond) and keep walking straight on. Yamazaki yama has a lovely little shelter and bench (useful if it is raining) where you can look down through the trees. The other is Sazae yama, reached by a winding path up to the side of Uchihashi tei (tea house). Very few visitors make the effort to climb up here and you will have wonderful views over the pond, the tea house and the Kotoji-toro stone lantern at the far end of the pond. In winter when the leaves aren’t so thick, you can see right down the hill into the city of Kanazawa and onto the river. The only people here are usually those sketching or simply contemplating peacefully.
No matter what season you go to Kanazawa, a visit to Kenrokuen Garden is not to be missed. In spring, you approach the entrance via an avenue of cherry blossom trees gently shedding their blossoms like a pinkish-tinged snowfall. In summer, the greenery, with irises dancing on the sparkling water, is a welcome escape from daily hustle and bustle and heat. In autumn, the glowing maple leaves encourage you to linger. In winter, the garden is, in some ways, at its most extraordinary. The pine trees are protected by wigwam-like rope structures (yukitsuri) to protect them from the snow, and the garden is peaceful under a white blanket.
There is also a war memorial in the park. The Meiji Memorial was erected in 1880 to commemorate the deaths of 400 soldiers from Ishikawa Prefecture who died helping to suppress a rebellion in Kyushu. The statue is built in the shape of a mythical Japanese hero called Yamato Takeru who according to ancient legend also suppressed a rebellion in Kyushu.
Getting To Kanazawa
By air – Komatsu Airport is 25km southwest of Kanazawa and is linked by Hokutetsu buses (approx. 40 minutes) to Kanazawa station. There are domestic flights to Tokyo (Haneda), Fukuoka, Okinawa, Sapporo and Sendai and international connections to Seoul and Shanghai from Komatsu Airport.
By rail – Kanazawa is served by the JR Hokuriku Line to Osaka (2 hours, 45 minutes), Fukui (50 minutes), and Kyoto (2 hours 15 minutes). To Tokyo travel via Echigo-Yuzawa and pick up the Joetsu shinkansen (approx 3 hours 50 mins) or Tokaido shinkansen from Tokyo changing at Maibara to the express train for Kanazawa (approx 4 hours 30 mins).
By bus – There are long distance bus services from outside Kanazawa Station to Tokyo (7 hours, 30 mins), Kyoto (4 hours), Yokohama (8 hours, 20 mins), Nagoya (4 hours), Sendai (8 hours, 30mins), Niigata (4 hours, 40 mins), Takayama (3 hours) and other destinations.