Kenrokuen garden is the focal point of Kanazawa and has a long and celebrated history. The garden was created over the span of several hundred years by the Maeda family, and today is one of the best examples of a strolling-style Japanese landscape garden. The garden offers something to enjoy whatever the season.
"Kenrokuen" means “garden that combines six characteristics". These six characteristics are spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas. Not every garden in Japan can combine all of these features but Kenrokuen nails each one.
Kenrokuen is easily accessed from Kanazawa station via the Kanazawa Loop Bus and the Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus departing from the east exit.
The ride takes 20 minutes and costs 200 yen. Alternatively, JR rail pass holders can take the JR buses bound for Korinbo using the rail pass. There are 1-3 buses per hour. The garden is central to much of what you will want to see in Kanazawa.
Kenrokuen was once a private garden belonging to the Maeda family, who reigned over the Kaga domain in Ishikawa from Kanazawa castle. The Maeda family was one of the most powerful in the country in feudal times after the shogun's family. Construction began in 1676 with a landscape garden called Renchitei and the garden continues to evolve over three centuries. It was completely burned in 1759 and rebuilt afterwards.
In 1822, the garden took its present name and in 1874, the garden was opened to the public.
Check off every aspect of a traditional Japanese garden here: ponds, stone lanterns, waterfalls, stone paths, bridges, streams, tea houses and artificial hills. In this natural environment, you can easily spend at least a few hours absorbing the peaceful surroundings, designed for meditative practices during the feudal era.
Plum blossoms and then cherry blossoms bloom in spring, and there are a variety of flowers to see in summer, such as azalea. In fall, the garden comes alive with the blazing red Japanese maple leaves. The word "momijigari" refers to the hunt for spotting this stunning maple and this garden is the place to be. Come winter, the snow-covered pine trees along the pond offer romantic views. The trees are also illuminated for a short period in January and February.
You may have noticed that pine trees in the winter in Japan often have what looks like an umbrella of ropes strung from a pole above them and reaching down to the lower branches. This is the yukizuri, a conical array of ropes built to support the branches of the trees and thereby prevent them from breaking under the weight of the heavy snowfalls of the winter. These are, after all, old trees, especially Kenrokuen's famous 200-year-old pine. Setting up the yukizuri starts November 1 and they remain until around March 15.
At the southeast end of the garden, you will find a villa built in 1863 by the Lord Nariyasu Maeda as a comfortable retirement home for his mother. The enormous two-story structure is built in two styles. The main floor is built in a style called buke-shoin, a formal setting meant for receiving guests, and the second-floor design is called sukiya-shoin, featuring red, blue, and purple colors, giving it a more playful and relaxing atmosphere.
Seisonkaku Villa also functions as a museum, displaying dolls, illustrated books, and paintings.
The garden connects to Kanazawa Castle. Simply cross the bridge once out of the Ishikawa gate. Outside of the garden's Katsurazaka gate, the pedestrian road is lined with small restaurants and cafes serving casual lunch dishes, tea, and ice cream absolutely covered in gold leaf. Hakuichi's, at the Ishikawa Gate (one minute from Kenrokuen-shita bus stop), is quite famous for it. This is no accident; Kanazawa accounts for 99% percent of all domestic gold leaf production. Several cafes, shops, and even museums offer gold leaf in various forms. The very strong presence of traditional arts and crafts in Kanazawa is a reflection of the strength and wealth of the Maeda family and their commitment to the arts.
There are several museums accessible on foot nearby, including the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art, as well as places to further explore and learn various expressions of Japanese culture, such as the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center and the Kanazawa Noh Museum.
How about wearing and becoming a living work of art? Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center offers travellers the distinctive option of being fit into a kimono--an easy-to-wear two-piece or traditional kimono style. For 1500 JPY (entry fee included) you may even leave the premises in your silken kimono and zori slippers for a stroll, provided the weather is fine. (3800 JPY affords you one hour of wearing, entry fee included).