After leaving Jigokudani Monkey Park it had been our intention to do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. It’s supposed to be spectacular but it’s also relatively expensive. It would also not look its best in the overcast weather that was forecast. Instead we headed for Kanazawa where we wanted to visit Kenrokuen Garden. Unsure how easy it would be to find somewhere to park and sleep in the city we decided to instead book a hotel. Kanazawa Central Hotel was good value and offered free parking. It was a good decision as we were able to enjoy a hot shower and I had somewhere comfortable to start editing some photographs.
Kenrokuen Garden Kanazawa – Popular with the Japanese and overseas tourists alike
Early the next morning we left the hotel and completed the short drive to Kenrokuen Garden which is considered to be one of the three great gardens of Japan. The entry fee was 310 Yen for adults. Kenrokuen opening hours during the month of November were 8:00am to 5:00pm. I immediately noticed that most of the other visitors seemed to be Japanese. It seems Japan is a nation that loves their gardens. For the Japanese a garden is not simply about flower beds and lots of colourful blooms. Like in many things, when it comes to gardens the Japanese can be quite meticulous. The use of stones, gravel, bridges and water features are carefully considered to give the garden a sense of tranquility and a serenity about the space. Whether you can really achieve tranquility at what is a popular tourist destination is up for debate.
Kenrokuen Garden – History & When to visit
Kenrokuen Garden history is closely linked to nearby Kanazawa Castle which we also visited. The garden has been open to the public since 1868 but the history goes back much further. In the 1600’s Maeda Tsunenori, the 5th lord of Kaga domain built it. Originally it was just the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle but over time it has grown and changed. Kenrokuen actually means “Garden of the Six Sublimities”. These 6 sublimities are spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views.
The garden is popular throughout the year as the plants change. If you have ever looked at images on social media you will see lots of Kenrokuen Garden cherry blossom photos from spring time as well as lots of Kenrokuen Garden autumn colour photographs. One distinctive winter feature of the garden is yukizuri which are ropes attached to the trees in a cone shape to protect them from heavy snow. These ropes are usually attached in November which is also when the autumn colours are at their best. Kanazawa can get snow from late November until February. The snow has a high moisture content which makes it heavy enough to break branches. The yukizuri have become a photo opportunity themselves.
Another thing you will notice when you visit Kenrokuen Garden is that there are a number of people who will visit dressed in traditional Japanese costumes. Women in particular will wear brightly coloured silk kimonos, usually in order to get photographs of themselves. Since Kanazawa was only one of two cities not bombed during the war, an old part of town still exists, making it a popular destination for nostalgia seekers.
As I mentioned above, when we had finished visiting the garden we decided to walk to Kanazawa Castle. The castle was the seat of the Maeda Clan from 1583 until the end of the Edo Period. Over the years it has burnt down a few times, the last being in 1881. Over the last decade or two much of the castle has been rebuilt, very sympathetically to look like it did in the 1850’s. Some parts of the interior and the grounds are free to the public. The only parts that incur an entrance fee are the two turrets and the storehouse that connects them.
During winter at very limited times Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park are illuminated at night. Over the New Year period there is also a Kanazawa Light Up Bus that on Saturday evenings visit various lit up zones and buildings in the centre of Kanazawa. If time allows then you should also try and visit the Higashi Chaya District of the city. Chaya means teahouse and it is where Geisha would once entertain guests. Besides two teahouses the main street in this district also has restaurants and shops. It’s an area with lots of atmosphere.