ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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DAY 7 (4/7): A STROLL THROUGH THE HISTORICAL HEART OF KANAZAWA, Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter D. T. Suzuki Museum , we walked north to the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) of Kenroku-en Garden.

2We soon arrived at the Hisago-ike Pond, where the famous Midori-taki Waterfall and Kaisekito Pagoda featured in the scenery.

4Right 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.

3Design 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.

6At Kasumiga-ike Pond, larger manmade islands are planted with pine trees and flowers, providing a focal point for spectators from all around the pond.

5Tea 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.

8At Kasumiga-ike Pond, the famous Karasaki Pine is often considered as the most unique tree in the entire garden.

9Around 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.

10Thanks to the manmade reinforcement, the crown of some feature pine trees spread out to great extent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANeagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine is one of the most handsome feature pines in the garden.

12Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine.

7Near 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.

13In late May, there was no sakura or autumn maples, though the irises were still quite eye-catching.

14In the Plum-Grove Garden, there are about 200 plum trees with over 20 plum varieties.

15After Kenroku-en, we walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園).

16The original Kanazawa Castle was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century.  The elegant Kanazawa Castle that we see today was reconstructed in 2001.


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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03

Day 1: Tokyo (東京)

Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)

Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)

Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)

Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)

Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)

Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)

Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)

Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)

WEST SEA CANYON (西海大峡谷), HUANGSHAN (黃山), Anhui, China

Peculiar granite peaks, ancient pine trees, and the majestic sea of clouds, Huangshan (黄山) is considered by many as the most picturesque mountain range in China.  Throughout history, the scenery of Huangshan has long been a popular subject for Chinese literature and paintings.  What so special about Huangshan is its frequent foggy days during which the entire summit area is concealed behind moving mist, revealing only small fragments of its rocky silhouette at certain moments.  This mysterious scenery has become a major inspiration for the pursuit of yi jing (意境).  Yi jing refers to a way to see beauty through poetic revelation.  The pursuit of yi jing is common in Chinese artwork and poetry.  Artists or poets often find ways to express yi jing in their work through abstract depiction or selectively not showing something in order to convey the hidden beauty of the whole picture.  To put it in other words, yi jing is about conveying the essence of something without depicting it fully, just like the scenery of Huangshan, whose real beauty is often hidden from view.

At 1,864m, Lotus Peak (蓮花峰) is already the tallest peak in Huangshan.  While the height of 1,864m is hardly the tallest mountain in China, the granite peaks shaded first by an ancient sea and then retreating glaciers had inspired ancient poets and painters and modern photographers and movie directors (James Cameron cited Huangshan as a major inspiration for 2009’s Avatar).  With its unique scenery and endemic pine trees, in 1990 Huangshan was enlisted on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Today Huangshan is a top tourist destination in China.  At the summit area there are several hotels and guesthouses, cable car services at four different locations, and extensive paved trails crisscrossing the famous peaks and scenic lookouts, capturing the imagination and hearts of visitors from dynastic era to the contemporary.

At around 6am, we left the youth hostel at Tunxi’s Laojie and hopped on a tourist bus heading to Tangkou (湯口), the base town at the south entrance of Huangshan’s scenic area.  The bus journey took about 1.5 hour.  At Tangkou, we got to transfer onto a shuttle bus designated for a specific cable car station; but beforehand, we had to decide which path to take. There were a few options to climb to the summit area of Huangshan, either by cable car or by half-day hike.  Since we preferred to spend more time at the summit so we decided to take the cable car.  There are two cable car stations accessible by shuttle bus from Tangkou, the Yungu (雲谷) and the Yuping (玉屏).  We picked the Yungu cable car for its close proximity to our hotel Xihai Hotel (西海飯店) at the summit area.  The cable car journey only took about ten minutes.  It was drizzling when we arrived the submit area.  In light rain, we found our way to the hotel in light rain, checked in, dropped off our bags, and headed out again to the trail head of West Sea Canyon.

The summit area of Huangshan host a series of hiking trails.  The area is large enough to keep any visitor busy for at least two days.  Given the unpredictable weather of Huangshan (over 200 rainy days per year), staying a night on the summit area of Huangshan is the minimum.  Most local visitors and tour groups favour the Yuping scenic area, where the Welcome Pine (迎客松), Heavenly Capital Peak (天都峰) and Lotus Flower Peak (莲花峰) are located.  We opted for the less crowded West Sea Canyon (西海大峡谷), where a narrow cliff-side footpath zigzagging its way down the steep canyon.  Despite the rain, the cliff-side footpath down the canyon was manageable.  Just as we started our descend, the mist suddenly came and concealed much of the mountain scenery.  The famous mist and sea of clouds prevailed.  Occasional moments when the granite peaks emerged from the clearing mist were purely magical.  We took our time finding our way surefootedly down the steep steps until we reached a pavilion at the canyon’s bottom.  We stopped several times along the way watching the moving mist and photographing the picturesque Huangshan scenery as if meandering through a mysterious Chinese painting.

At the bottom of West Sea Canyon, we took the new West Sea Canyon Funicular back up to the summit area.  The rain got heavier and the visibility got worsen by the time we returned to the submit.  We hiked across the west side of the summit area, passed by the Flying Rock (飛來石) and Bright Summit Peak (光明頂) before returning to the Xihai Hotel.  It was rainy and foggy all the way.  By the time we arrived at the hotel, we were soaking wet.  At the hotel entrance deck, we could hardly see beyond a few meters in the fog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first glimpse of West Sea’s scenery as we were heading to the trail head of West Sea Canyon from the Xihai Hotel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExpression of love is universal. Huangshan is also a popular place for lovers leaving their love padlocks onto the fences as a manifesto of love.

3Mountain scenery varies in different seasons, weather and time of day.  At Huangshan, it was all about the mysterious scenery in the mist.

4The Chinese named this granite formation, “the Flower Blooming on a Brush Tip” (夢筆生花).  It is one of the most popular views at the North Sea area.

5Looking down to the West Sea Canyon, the mist was gathering at the valley.

6We were amazed by the engineering of the extensive cliff-side footpath with stone steps held by horizontal supports attached to the rock cliffs of the mountain.

7Mysterious mountain view of the West Sea Canyon.

8Visibility was low and everyone was paying extra attention on the trail.

9The sea of clouds at the West Sea Canyon.

10The pine trees and the winding footpath attached to the sheer cliff.

11This picture was taking when we paused and took a break at the mid level of the West Sea Canyon. We were enchanted by the changing mist in front of us.  We patiently waited for the magical moments when the granite mountain emerged from the mist for a few seconds.

12Embraced by the mighty peaks of Huangshan, we cherished the moments when we were alone on the trail.

13We marveled at the pine trees growing from tiny cracks in the rocks. Before we often saw pine trees being depicted in strange gestures in Chinese paintings.  Now we finally saw the real thing and realized where their inspiration originated.

14Changing scenery of the mist-encased granite mountains.

15Approaching the bottom of the West Sea Canyon.

16Before the West Sea Valley funicular came in service in 2013, the West Sea Canyon trail was like a secret paradise for individual travelers who wanted to seek moment of tranquility away from the horrendous crowds in the summit area. We had mixed feelings for the new funicular.  We cheered for its convenience (without doing the return climb via a treacherous cliff-side path and thus saving 2.5 hours of time) but we feared that the West Sea Canyon would eventually lose its serenity.  During our visit, we opted for the funicular to save us from the knee and thigh-killing return climb.

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Read other posts on 2015 Anhui and Hangzhou
1. History, Scenery, Architecture, 5-day tour of Anhui and Hangzhou, China
2. Laojie (Old Street), Tunxi, China
3. Hongcun, Anhui, China
4. Xidi, Anhui, China
5. West Sea Canyon, Huangshan, Anhui, China
6. From Monkey Watching the Sea to Welcome Pine, Huangshan, Anhui, China
7. Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China
8. Folk Art Museum, Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China