In Kanazawa, Japan, the main thing I wanted to do was visit a garden. Not just any garden: Kenroku-en, listed as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Japan loves its lists of places, a country after my own heart.
Kenroku-en was started in the 1620s, and opened to the public in 1874. It is a strolling style garden, and absolutely worth your time to take a walk.
No matter which entrance you choose, there are really no bad spots to start your meander around the garden.
There were several fountains. This one is powered by gravity – the water comes from a pond of a higher elevation, so the height of the fountain depends on the surface level of the other pond.
One of the things I liked was strolling a little ways and then finding a bench and sitting and soaking in the beauty for a while. Public seating is hard to find in Japan, but there was plenty here (perhaps because there’s an entrance fee).
It was cool to observe the differences in landscaping between Japanese gardens and traditional European or American ones. Things were encouraged to continue growing in the Japanese gardens we saw. This tree, the Karasakinomatsu Pine, is a great example. Old trees, instead of being cut back when their branches are in danger of falling, are instead supported and guided in certain directions, and many end up being rather horizontal. In the winter, they erect poles with ropes to hold up the branches due to heavy snow. Artificial ornamentation is avoided in Japanese gardens to instead focus on the natural beauty.
Above is the Flying Wild Geese Bridge. Overall, the effect of this garden was decidedly more wild and natural than a highly cultivated European garden.
There was a lot of green – lots of moss, trees, and bushes. It was past flowering season but it seemed there were far more flowering trees than planted flowers.
Water clearly plays a big role as well in Japanese gardens.
Overall, I love the effect of Japanese gardens. They feel calming in a way that rigid, orderly European gardens do not. Kenroku-en was definitely the best garden I visited while in Japan, and highly recommended if you like natural spaces. It probably depends on your personality whether Kenroku-en by itself is worth a trip to Kanazawa, but it’s not terribly far from Tokyo or Kyoto by bullet train, and an endearing city for other reasons as well.
If you’re planning to visit Kenroku-en, know that it’s 310 yen per adult ($2.70 at time of publication) and open daily until 5 or 6 pm depending on the season. It’s right next to Kanazawa Castle Park, the grounds of which are free to walk around.
What kind of gardens do you like?