What to see in Kenrokuen?
Kenrokuen is a huge Japanese garden covering an area of more than 11 hectares on which are planted nearly 9000 trees. The sophisticated arrangements of this park combine 183 plant species. The Karasaki pine is among these trees. It was initially planted by Lord Nariyasu of Karasaki, near Biwa Lake in the 13th century.
The park is arranged around a large pond named Kasumigaike. An island is in the center of this large water body. Legends tell it’d house a hermit with magical powers. Honestly, I don’t see where this man could hide since the island is relatively small.
Kasumigaike pond in Kenrokuen gardens hidden behind branches and their yukitsuri cables. Photo by Michaël da Silva Paternoster for Nipponrama.
Kotoji-toro is the most emblematic element of the Maeda family’s gardens. This lantern has two feet, which is unusual. Its name comes from its resemblance to a bridge on a koto, a typical Japanese harp.
But that’s not all since you’ll also find the oldest fountain in Japan in these gardens. This feat was facilitated by the natural pressure of the water that gushes at this place.
Ganko-bashi is a bridge famous for its refined form. Its name can be translated as “Bridge of Geese”. This name comes from the shape made by the eleven red stones that form the bridge. Indeed, they are positioned as a group of geese in flight.
The park contains several buildings, each with their own function. Yugao-tei is a tea house. It is also the oldest structure of these gardens. Shigure-tei is a rest home. Maeda Tsunanori built it, but this building has been fully restored in the late twentieth century.
Finally, the small Kaiseki pagoda, which is on an island not far from the main entrance of the park, was allegedly offered to the Maeda family by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the famous samurai who unified Japan in the 16th century. One theory is that it was brought from Korea by Kato Kiyomasa. This samurai had fought in Imjin war, one of the Japanese attempts to conquer the Korean peninsula.
Kaiseki Pagoda photographed by tourists. Photo by Michaël da Silva Paternoster for Nipponrama.
Thanks to these many points of interest, the park is pleasant to visit throughout the year. Visitors can watch the cherry and plum blossoms during the spring. Irises appear at the beginning of the summer. It’s possible to observe the orange leaves of the trees during the fall. In winter, the snow is invited in the park; it’s the opportunity to see unusual structures appear.
What are the cables attached to garden trees?
The Meiji statue surrounded by trees with yukitsuri in Kenrokuen. Photo by Michaël da Silva Paternoster.
In winter you will see many wires attached to the branches of Kenrokuen trees. These cables forming conical webs are called “Yukitsuri”, which means “snow-grip”. They are installed in early November and serve to relieve the branches of the snow weight that is falling in large quantities in the region. This ingenious system preserves the beauty of the park because the trees aren’t damaged by this difficult season.
What’s the meaning of “Kenrokuen”?
Kenrokuen, “兼 六 園” in Japanese, can be translated as “Six Attribute Gardens”. These six attributes that are defining the beauty of Kenrokuen’s landscapes are the sense of spaciousness, seclusion, artifices, antiquity, watercourses, and panoramas.