Japan has a long and proud tradition of creating spectacularly beautiful landscaped gardens. Most are designed to highlight the nation’s love of Japanese aesthetics, philosophical ideas, and the natural landscape. The Kenrokuen Garden of Kanazawa is an exceptional example of a traditional Japanese garden.
You might not have thought of including Kenrokuen Garden in your itinerary, but its historical tea houses, magnificently landscaped gardens, serene lakes and streams, and vibrant floral vistas make it a ‘must-see’ for your forthcoming trip to Japan.
What is the Kenrokuen Garden?
Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園, ‘Six attributes garden’) is one of Japan’s most beloved landscape gardens. It even has the honor of being named one of the ‘Three Great Gardens of Japan’ (日本三名園, Nihon Sanmeien) alongside Kairakuen in Mito and Kōrakuen in Okayama.
It is a traditional Japanese garden (日本庭園, nihon teien) that was named by daimyo (feudal lord) Matsudaira Sadanobu (松平 定信) in the 19th century.
He took the name from a book written by Chinese poet Li Geifi (李格非) called Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens (洛陽名園記).
The Kenrokuen (‘six attributes’) Garden stands for the six characteristics of a perfect landscape, namely spaciousness, serenity, artificiality, antiquity, panoramic views, and water design.
It is a sprawling 25 acres (114,436.65 m2) located outside the gates of Kanazawa Castle, where it originally formed the outer garden.
What is the history of Kenrokuen Garden?
The garden was first opened to the public in 1871, but it was actually founded several centuries earlier by the Maeda samurai clan (前田氏, Maeda-shi) in the 1620s. They controlled the central Honshu region until the Meiji restoration of 1868.
Although historians do not know exactly how the garden was first created, one of its earliest features was the Tatsumi water channel which was created in 1632 by daimyo Maeda Toshitsune.
The Renchiochin House of 1676, located on the slope facing Kanazawa Castle, was another early addition and it gave the garden its first name, Renchi-tei, which translates to ‘lotus pond’.
The garden was a favorite leisure spot for the region’s noble classes, who enjoyed spending time there feasting, appreciating the plants, riding horses, and even viewing the moon on cloudless nights.
Most of the garden was destroyed by a fire in 1759 but the Shigure-tei teahouse, which was built in 1725, survived. You can still visit this marvelous structure today, close to the Renchi-tei section of the garden.
A significant restoration program began in 1774 and the garden opened for visitors a century later, in 1874.
During this period the following elements were added:
- The Midori-taki ‘Emerald Waterfall’
- The Yugao-tei teahouse
- The winding water and streams diverted from the Tatsumi Waterway
- The expansion of the Kasumi Pond
What are the best experiences of Kenrokuen Garden?
- The ‘raised roots pine’ (neagari matsu) and Karasaki Pine, both of which were planted by the 13th daimyo, Maeda Nariyasu
- The garden’s oldest building, the Yugao-tei tea house on the Hisagoike Pond which dates to 1774
- The Meiji war memorial of 1880, which commemorates the suppression of a rebellion in Kyushu
- The yukitsuri (protective ropes) which are installed every winter to protect the trees’ fragile branches from heavy snowfall
- The two-legged stone Kotojitoro Lantern, a 2-meter tall iconic symbol of the garden
- The Sacred Well of Kenruoken, possible the oldest feature of the garden
- The Shigure-tei teahouse that survived the catastrophic fire of 1759
- The ancient Kaisekito Pagoda
- Japan’s oldest fountain, fed by natural water pressure
- The Gankō-bashi ‘Flying Geese Bridge’ that resembles geese in a flying formation
- The historic Kaiseki Pagoda.
What is the best time of year to visit?
Kenrokuen Garden has something to experience throughout the year.
In autumn, the cherry and maple trees provide curtains of spectacular fall colors, from golden hues to deep reds, browns, and oranges.
In winter, the dusting of snow transforms the gardens into a winter wonderland.
In summer, carpets of summer flowers greet you with vibrant colors.
How do I get to Kanazawa?
Kanazawa has a dedicated high speed train service between the city and Tokyo called the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線). The trip takes between 2.5 and 3 hours and will cost around 14,000 yen.
You can use your Japan Rail Pass and Hokuriku Arch Pass on this journey if you have one.
You can also opt to take the cheaper option of a highway bus from Tokyo, which costs around 6,000 – 8,000 yen, or a Willer Express, which offers a one-way fare for 4,500 yen.
If time is not on your side, a 1-hour flight from Tokyo will cost between 10,000 and 25,000 yen and it will take you from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Kanazawa’s Kamatsu Airport.
How do I get to Kenrokuen Garden?
You can find Kenrokuen Garden in the center of Kanazawa City, close to Kanazawa Castle Park.
Kanazawa has a clean and efficient bus loop dedicated to tourists. For 200 yen, you can catch the bus, which takes a loop around the city every 5 minutes.
The bus will drop you off at the garden’s Kenrokuen Exit and it takes about 20 minutes to get from Kanazawa station.
What other information do I need to know?
You can visit the gardens throughout the year, except during daylight hours between December 29 and January 3.
From March to October 15, the gates are open between 7 am and 6 pm.
From October 16 to February, the gates are open between 8 am and 5 pm.
For the early birds, you can visit as early as:
- 5 am in September, October, and March
- 4 am from April to August
- 6 am from November to February
It costs 320 yen to enter the gardens, although if you visit early in the morning it costs nothing. If you have a Kenrokuen Plus One Ticket, entry is free. (The pass costs 500 yen and is valid for 2 days.)