Kanazawa (金沢) (III) (Engl.)

The piece of gold on the west coast: Horticulture & Samurai

Titel Kanazawa 3

Eine deutsche Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier.
A German version fo this posting you can find here.

Already posted on that topic:

Kanazawa (金沢) (I) (English version)
– The piece of gold on the west coast: Drums, markets & a gorgeous castle

Kanazawa (金沢) (II) (English version)
The piece of gold on the west coast: Time honoured shrines & modern architecture

Of all the sights of Kanazawa probably the Kenroku-en (兼六園 / けんろくえん) is the most famous one. And even those who have already seen a number of Japanese landscape gardens run the risk that this one might take their breath away. For good reason the Kenroku-en is one of the “Three Famous Gardens of Japan” (日本三名園 / にほんさんめいえん) and also a “National Site of Special Scenic Beauty” (since 1985), which puts it into the rank of a “National Treasure”.

The name can losely be translated into “garden of six attributes” which perfectly represent old Chinese principles for horticulture:

spaciousness (宏大 / こうだい) & seclusion (幽邃 / ゆうすい)
artifice (人力 / じんりょく) & antiquity (蒼古 / そうこ)
water courses (水泉 / すいせん) & panoramas (眺望 / ちょうぼう)

The Kenroku-en is a true “stroll garden”. Which means: It reveals its beauty only, if one walks through it – its beauty is not restricted to a selected number of spots of aesthetic design, but is a total work of art, without being “artificial” in the slightest. Its numerous ponds and lakes, the water courses and waterfalls that have been created over the centuries are a symbol for the continuity of life.

The fifth ruler of the Maeda clan, Tsunanori Maeda (前田 綱紀 / まえだ・つなのり) (1643 to 1724), was the first to have a garden created surrounding his residence in 1676, which was, however, lost completely in a fire in 1759. Only the eleventh lord of the Maeda, Harunaga (前田 治脩 / 前田・はるなが) (1745 to 1810), had the garden re-created and enlarged by 1776. In the years to follow a number of large buildings were erected on the garden’s grounds, which obviously followed prevailing taste of the respective ruler. In 1850 the garden was further enlarged by Nariyasu Maeda (前田 斉泰 / まえだ・なりやす) and finally completed by the receation of the large pond “Kasumi-ga ike” (霞ヶ池 / かすみがいけ) and the “Tatsumi goten“-villa (巽御殿 / たつみごてん) (today “Seisonkaku” (成巽閣 / せいそんかく)) in the year 1863. Shortly after that the military government of the Tokugawa shōgunes in old Edo (Tōkyō) came to an end, when political and military power was taken over by the emperor. This also ended the reign of the Maeda in Kanazawa. Already in 1874 the garden was handed over to the public.

Nowadays it’ll cost you only a minor entrance fee (and even that wasn’t required until 1976!) to stroll the 100,000 sqm of the garden to your heart’s content. From its highest point you may also enjoy quite an impressive panorama of the city of Kanazawa. But also don’t miss a break in one of the picturesque tea houses. Spoil yourself with a “matcha” (抹茶 / まっちゃ) (literally translated: pulverised tea), a cup of tea as it is usually prepared during a tea ceremony. It is not just vividly green, but also extraordinarily aromatic. It is always served with some little sweet (preferably based on sweetened red beans).

The “Seisonkaku” (成巽閣 / せいそんかく), the 1,000 sqm comfortable retirement home for the mother of the last Maeda daimyo, certainly is a must when you visit the Kenroku-en – and be it only for its 7,000 sqms of garden. The spacious rooms on the ground floor exhibit a certain degree of feudal glory (at least, if looked at it keeping Japanese standards in mind), but also breath the fresh air that was brought to Japan when it gained its first contacts to foreign countries after centuries of seclusion (while “fresh air” doesn’t necessarily need to be translated into “good taste”). Among the representative rooms on this floor, of course the “Reception Room” (謁見の間 / えっけんのま) is particularly gorgeous – nobody would ever guess that colourful wooden carvings, like the ones on display there, exist in Japan. But you can also trust your nose: It must be strong preserving agents that help to conserve to glory of this room.

Of a more modest nature but no less impressive are the porches that connect the building with its beautiful gardens. The so-called “Horsetail Corridor” (つくしの廊下 / ) with its 20 metres of length without even a single pillar is particularly striking. Have you ever been to Nijō Castle in Kyōto? Then you’ll have something of a deja-vu here, as the flooring of the porches makes similar “nightingale”-sounds as the ones at Nijō Castle.

The most unusual – yet most typical for Kanazawa – room you will find on the 1st floor,

  • Gunjō-no ma (群青の間 / ぐんじょうのま ), ultramarine room
  • Shoken-no ma (書見の間 / しょけんのま), reading room (blue ceiling and purple walls),
  • Ajiro-no ma (網代の間 / あじろのま), room with wickerwork ceiling
  • Etchū-no ma (越中の間 / えっちゅうのま), room with a ceiling made of cedar from Toyama (previously called “Etchū”)

which have been furnished in the “sukiya shoin”-style (数奇屋風書院 / すきやふうしょいん), which emphasises plain, unvarnished wood as well as elaborately prepared ceilings (e.g. wickerwork). You will find that the strong colouring of walls and ceilings is particularly unusual – ultramarine, strong purple and red are hardly colours you will find in noble housing elsewhere in Japan.

It is a bit of a pity that additional handrails had to be installed on the upper floor that neither match the colour nor the structure of the wood previsously used, as they somewhat impair the harmonious atmosphere of the rooms. Unfortunately, there are neither pictures of the rooms nor of the handrails, as taking pictures is prohibited inside the Seisonkaku. But take a look at the beautiful gardens and the shingle roofs.


Opening hours of the Kenroku-en:

From March 1st to October 15th: 7:00 am to 6:00 pm,
from October 16th to February 28th/29th: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Admission fee for the Kenroku-en:

Adults: 310 Yen
Children (6 to 17 years): 100 Yen
There are discounts for groups of 30 or more persons.

Opening hours of the Seisonkaku:

Daily (except Wednesday) from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm).
Closed during the New Year holidays (December 29th to January 2nd)

Admission fee for the Seisonkaku:

Adults & university students: 700 Yen
Junior high- and high school students: 300 Yen
Elementary school students: 250 Yen
There are discounts for groups of 20 or more persons.

Admisstion fee for special exhibitions at the Seisonkaku:

Adults & university students: 1,000 Yen
Junior high- and high school students: 400 Yen
Elementary school students: 300 Yen
There are discounts for groups of 20 or more persons.


And in order to complete our walk today, we will also pay Kanazawa’s old Samurai district a visit, which is located about one kilometre east of the Kenroku-en. If you leave the garden next to the crossing “Hirosaka” (広坂 / ひろさか), just leave the “21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art” on your left hand side and and continue into eastern direction, you will pass the Shiinoki Geihinkan (しいのき迎賓館しいのきげいひんかん), a rather interesting building that shows a brick-stone facade typical for the Taishō period (1912-1926) on its south side and a modern glass front on the north side. Previously used for the prefectural government and now a cultural centre.

Shiinoki Geihinkan (しいのき迎賓館)

Shiinoki Geihinkan (しいのき迎賓館)

Just a few steps further east you will find another impressive brick stone building, the Museums for Modern Literature (四高記念文化交流館 / しこうきねんぶんかこうりゅうかん), a building dating back to the year 1891 when it was the forth highschool, but since its restoration in 2008 used as a museum.

Museum für moderne Literatur (四高記念文化交流館)

Museum for Modern Literature (四高記念文化交流館)

Cross the National Road No. 51 at the Daiwa Department Store, and by doing so you’ll be in front of a branch of the Bank of Japan (日本銀行金澤支店 / にっぽんぎんこうかなざわしてん). Walk down the narrow street between the “Kanazawa Excel Hotel Tōkyū” (金沢エクセルホテル東急) (you’ll find a Starbucks coffee shop at the ground floor) and the Bank of Japan and that just straight – just a few steps away from the busy centre of Kanazawa you will dive into a world long passed by: the Nagamachi Samurai District (長町武家屋敷跡 / ながまちぶけやしきあと). Two out of eight of the most powerful samurai families in the Maeda clan’s entourage had their residence here. Even though none of the original buildings have survived since then and made space to more contemporary housing, the flair of the disctrict seems to be unchanged. The protective walls, the stone pavement and the pretty gardens give a pretty good impression of how it may have looked here a long time ago. Take your time an browse through the little shops and their mostly premium handycraft products.

Next time I’ll come to Kanazawa, I will surely also visit the tea house and geisha district, Higashi Chayagai (東茶屋街 / ひがしちゃやがい).

Also have a look at:

Kanazawa (金沢) (I) (English version)
– The piece of gold on the west coast: Drums, markets & a gorgeous castle

Kanazawa (金沢) (II) (English version)
– The piece of gold on the west coast: Time honoured shrines & modern architecture


3 Responses to Kanazawa (金沢) (III) (Engl.)

  1. […] Kanazawa (金沢) (III) (English version) – The piece of gold on the west coast: Horticulture & Samurai […]

  2. […] Kanazawa (金沢) (III) (English version) – The piece of gold on the west coast: Horticulture & Samurai […]

  3. […] deutsche Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier. A German version of this posting you can […]

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