My short trip to Hokuriku! Kenroku-en, one of the three great gardens in Japan

There are three traditional gardens which are called “the three great gardens in Japan.” Kairaku-en in Ibaraki, Kouraku-en in Okayama, and Kenroku-en in Kanazawa. It’s a mystery that there’s no record why those three were chosen from many Japanese traditional gardens. However, there are some common things among the three gardens.

(1) All of three are the same style of traditional Japanese garden called回遊式庭園 (kaiyushiki-teien). 回遊(kaiyu) literally means strolling around to see things, 式(shiki) means style and 庭園(teien) is garden. This is a type of Japanese garden designed for strolling in. Generally, there are ponds, streams, bridges, hills, groves, stones, flower gardens and tea houses in a garden, and each of them is important to consist a beautiful landscape.

*枯山水(karesansui): This is a different style of traditional Japanese garden. There is no pond and stream in this type of garden, but they use pebbles and gravel to make landscapes. 枯 literally means “wither”.

(2) Rich federal loads owned the three gardens. Unlike “karesansui” style garden which can be built in a tight space, “kaiyushiki-teien” needs wide land to create landscapes. Only people who had power could build this style of garden, and each garden has long histories. Kouraku-en was built in the 17th century, Kairaku-en and Kenroku-en were in the 18th century.

I had never been to any of the three great gardens since none of them is near Tokyo, where I’m living in, and Kenroku-en was the first one that I had a chance to visit in July this year.  I’d like to talk about Kenroku-en today.

 Why did they name the garden “Kenroku-en”?

Sadanobu Matsudaira, the grandson of the 8th Tokugawa shogun(徳川吉宗Yoshimune Tokugawa), named “Kenroku-en”. 兼(Ken) means have both/combine, 六(roku) means six and 園(en) is garden/park. You might think “What are six things combined in the garden?” if you just read the above explanation. The answer is 宏大(koudai=spaciousness), 幽邃(Yusui=seclusion), 人力(jinryoku=artificiality), 蒼古(souko=antiquity), 水泉(Suisen=abundant water) and 眺望(choubou=broad views). Those six things are essential for a great “kaiyushiki” garden. Apparently Sadanobu Matsudaira quoted them from洛陽名園記(Rakuyou meien ki, which introduced nineteen gardens in Luoyang, China), and it means Japanese people in the era liked Chinese-style gardens and they were examples for some gardens in Japan.

 The history of Kenroku-en

The garden originally belonged to an outer villa of Kanazawa castle, which was owned by the feudal load of 前田家(Maeda family) who ruled Kanazawa area. The fourth feudal load, 綱紀Tsunanori) built a second house and the garden called 蓮池庭(renchitei) near the castle in 1676, and he often invited his guests to the house and garden for parties. It was the beginning of Kenroku-en. However, the house and “renchitei” were destroyed by fire in April 1759. Fifteen years later, the tenth federal load rebuilt “renchitei” , and it was later enlarged in the early 19th century and opened to the public in 1874.


Which season would you like to visit a Japanese garden in? Spring for cherry blossoms? Summer for beautiful green? Fall for colored leaves? I guess most people would answer one of the above three seasons, but winter is also a good choice when you go to Kenroku-en.

In winter, the branches of Kenroku-en’s trees are suspended with ropes via a post at each tree’s center, forming elegant conical shapes that protect the trees from breaking under Kanazawa’s heavy snows. This protection is called 雪吊り(yukizuri). 雪 means show and 吊りmeans suspending or hanging. You can see gardeners working for yukizuri in November, and yukizuri can be seen it from November to the middle of March.

There is the snack called “YUKIZURI” which I wrote in the article “Omiyage in Kanazawa”, and you can buy the limited version at Kenroku-en.

There are many souvenir shops around Kenroku-en, and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa is very close from the garden since it takes only six minutes on foot. I had looked forward to visiting the museum since they have Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool”. I saw this swimming pool in the music video of “Link” released by a Japanese rock band, L’Arc~en~Ciel. (They are my most favorite Japanese band!) Unluckily, it was closed when I went there so I couldn’t enter the “inside” of the swimming pool. Ahh~(>_<)


Business hours: 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (from March to 15th October), 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (from 16th October to the end of February)

Entrance fee: 310 yen for an adult and 100 yen for a child who is under seventeen years old. Special free dates: You can enter “Kenroku-en” for free if you go there on the following dates.

From 31st December to 3rd January, one week that cherry blossoms are blooming (depends on the timing of blooming every year), the three days of Kanazawa-hyaumangoku-festival, from 14th to 16th August, and 3rd November. It is also free to enter “Kenroku-en” in early morning as follows; (A)5:00 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. in March and from 1st to 15th September, (B)4:00 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. from April to the end of August, (C) 5:00 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. from 16th September to the end of October, and (D)6:00 a.m. to 7:45a.m. from November to the end of February.


Address:11-Marunouchi, Kanazawa city, 920-0937 Ishikawa

The nearest station is JR Kanazawa station. It’s convenient if you use bus services from Kanazawa station to the following bus stops ; 兼六園下(Kenroku-en shita), 広阪(Hirosaka) or 金沢21世紀美術館・兼六園(21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa・Kenroku-en)

Tel#: 076-234-3800



金沢21世紀美術館(21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa)

Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa City, 920-8509 Ishikawa

Tel#: 076-220-2800



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