Since early 20th century, Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園) of Kanazawa (金沢) has appeared in travel literature along with Koraku-en (後楽園) of Okayama (岡山) and Kairaku-en (偕楽園) of Mito (水戸) as the Three Great Gardens in Japan (日本三名園). Today, Kenroku-en Garden remains as a popular destination in the heart of Kanazawa. For most visitors, it is not only the crafted beauty of the manmade landscapes that is astonishing, but also the continuous effort and care throughout generations involved in maintaining the beautiful trees that leave many in awe. Unfortunately we didn’t come at the right season to appreciate the visually stunning yukitsuri (雪つり), which literally means “snow hanging.” It is a traditional protection of the famous pine trees against potential damages caused by heavy snow, whose delicate limbs would be supported by bamboo poles and ropes arranged in conical arrays. In winter, a number of pine trees in the garden would appear like suspension bridge structures.
Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園), which literally means Garden of Six Attributes, refers to the six traditional qualities of a perfect Chinese garden. The six attributes include spaciousness, tranquility, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views. Next to the ground of Kanazawa Castle, the 11.4 hectare Kenroku-en was built by the Maeda Family (前田氏) in the 17th century. The garden was established in 1652 when a water system was constructed to divert river water to feed the artificial streams and ponds within the site. Garden features such as tea houses, fountains, stone lanterns, statues, flower beds, planters, and tree groves dot around the larger Kasumigaike Pond and the smaller Hisagoike Pond. These artificial ponds could be seen as allegories of the sea, with miniature islands symbolizing mythical isles inhabited by divine deities. Greenery were planted to offer scenery of distinct seasons: plum and cherry blossoms in spring, irises and azaleas in summer, and red maple foliage in autumn. Out of the roughly 8750 trees, there are dozens of feature pine trees. These feature trees, such as the Karasaki Pine, have received years of attentive care in order to maintain their unique visual characteristics.
Kenroku-en Garden was quite crowded during our visit. It was a day before the city-wide celebrations of Hyakumangoku Festival (百万石まつり). On the second day of the festival, tea service would be provided in Kenroku-en. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for a few more days to fully experience this popular annual event. We entered the garden via the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) across from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. We wandered aimlessly on the winding paths, hopping from one area to another to check out the picturesque ponds and unique pine trees in the garden. After strolling around the Hisagoike Pond and Kasumigaike Pond, we decided to leave the busy garden and walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園). On the lawn in front of the reconstructed castle, staff were busy setting up temporary booths for the upcoming event of the Hyakumangoku Festival. Unlike Matsumoto Castle that we saw a few days earlier, the original Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) was long destroyed by fire in late 19th century. A reconstructed complex was erected in 2001 at the original site based on the castle’s appearance in 1850s. The white and grey colour combination of the castle looked smart and delightful, but somehow the reconstructed complex did look a little too clean and new. We crossed the castle park and walked towards Oyama Shrine (尾山神社), an interesting building that we wanted to check out before leaving the historical heart of Kanazawa.
After D. T. Suzuki Museum , we walked north to the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) of Kenroku-en Garden.
We soon arrived at the Hisago-ike Pond, where the famous Midori-taki Waterfall and Kaisekito Pagoda featured in the scenery.
Right by the Hisago-ike Pond, the chouzubachi (手水鉢 or hand wash basin) in front of the Yugao-tei Tea House was made from the trunk of a fossilized palm tree.
Design features in Japanese and Chinese gardens often represent miniatures of natural landscape: ponds as sea or rocks as islands. A small rock cluster in the Hisago-ike Pond symbolizes an mythical island in the Eastern Sea.
At Kasumiga-ike Pond, larger manmade islands are planted with pine trees and flowers, providing a focal point for spectators from all around the pond.
Tea houses are common structures in Japanese gardens. Uchihashi-tei Tea House sits beautifully by the waterfront, overlooking the magnificent scenery of the Kasumiga-ike Pond.
At Kasumiga-ike Pond, the famous Karasaki Pine is often considered as the most unique tree in the entire garden.
Around Kasumiga-ike Pond, there are a number of feature pine trees that are painstakingly reinforced with bamboo and wooden posts in order to maintain their unique postures.
Thanks to the manmade reinforcement, the crown of some feature pine trees spread out to great extent.
Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine is one of the most handsome feature pines in the garden.
Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine.
Near the Kasumiga-ike Pond, the Gankou Bashi or Flying Goose Bridge offers a sense of interest to the garden scenery. There are eleven tomuro stones arranged in the gesture of flying geese.
In late May, there was no sakura or autumn maples, though the irises were still quite eye-catching.
In the Plum-Grove Garden, there are about 200 plum trees with over 20 plum varieties.
After Kenroku-en, we walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園).
The original Kanazawa Castle was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century. The elegant Kanazawa Castle that we see today was reconstructed in 2001.