20 July, 2016

Photos from a special garden in Kanazawa

When we were in Kanazawa we visited a garden that is rated in the top three beautiful landscape gardens in Japan, Kenrokuen. It is very old and used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. They're not sure how old, but probably it was begun in the 1600s. Nearly the whole garden was destroyed in 1759 in a fire. In fact this is a common story we heard as we traipsed around historical sights: things destroyed in fires or earthquakes.

We foreigners find Japanese history quite intimidating because it is so long and complex. Similarly the history of this garden. But I'm going to take a stab at giving you a taste. Four hundred years is a long time and many people have made many changes to the garden in that time. But it was formed and developed during the Edo period (1603-1868) by the local feudal lords.

This is an unusual two-legged lantern, is a signature piece in this garden (most lanterns have just one leg).
The ruling family in the area was the Maeda clan. They were one of the most powerful (and wealthy) samurai families in Japan and became daimyo (powerful feudal lords who ruled a large territory in Japan) during the Edo period. When you read about the garden you see the "fifth lord Maeda Tsunanori" who, in 1676, moved the garden house to the castle. He apparently started landscaping the garden that has become Kenrokuen. He also established three divine islands in the pond.

The "11th lord Harunaga" who restored the garden after the above mentioned fire.
See Kanazawa on the left towards the top of this map.
Tokyo being towards the bottom right.

The 12th lord extended the garden, adding some winding streams and build a villa. At the completion of the villa the garden was renamed, taking on its current name which embodies six attributes of a perfect landscape garden, according to a gardening book written by Li Gefei, a famous Chinese poet. The name of the garden means "Garden of the six sublimities" referring to spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views.

The 13th lord planed a pine tree, taking seed from a place near Lake Biwa. It's now very old and I'm sure it was one of the pines we saw with many poles propping up its limbs. 

One of the things I came away with was a greater appreciation of how much Japanese people revere history. In one place there was a two-foot stump poking out of the ground. It had a sign on it explaining how it was one of the oldest trees in the garden, but it had rotted away just a few years ago. I'm doubting that it's stump would have been honoured like this in many western countries, including my own.

The garden wasn't open to the public until 1874. Entry was free for many years, but in recent times they've charged for entry to help pay for the upkeep, it doesn't surprise me. It looked so picture perfect everywhere, I imagine it takes a whole team of gardeners to maintain it.

Moss is also an essential in a Japanese garden (the Japanese national anthem apparently includes the word "moss"). I love its lush green. What you can see below is not grass, but moss. Hmmm, maybe I could start my own inside moss garden...apparently in this humid climate it isn't hard.

There are many more photos and explanations here. I truly now wish I'd read up about the garden more before we went. It was hard to appreciate all the history. It's much more than just a park, like a 25 acre piece of art, pretty much everything has an intended meaning or detailed history. It was hard to know where to look, because every view was amazing.

I wish that I'd had my camera working properly. All my photos were underexposed because of a setting that I'd messed up. I'd also love to go back in a different season (though the green was lovely) and take more time to explore. The boys did really well, but it surely isn't their forte, exploring historical, beautiful gardens! But they did have some fun:

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