Kanazawa – Kenrokuen garden and Castle

Kanazawa – history of the castle

In the seventeenth century, Kanazawa was one of the most powerful feudal cities in Japan. In terms of its riches, art and population, it could compete with the largest cities in Europe at that time. The same as in Kyoto – the city avoided bombing during World War II. Thanks to that, the original samurai and geisha districts, cobbled streets and wooden houses have survived to this day. Worth visiting: the remaining building of the Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen Garden, Oyama Jinja Shrine and districts formerly inhabited by shoguns and geishas.

The train station and Tsuzumimon Gate

From Nagano to Kanazawa you can get easily by Shinkansen train (about 66 min). The train station in Kanazawa was expanded in 2014, to accommodate the requirements of Shinkansen trains. Above the station, there is a glass dome that resembles the shape of an umbrella. Outside of the station, visitors are greeted by the huge wooden “Tsuzumimon” gate. Its architecture combines advanced technology and Japanese tradition. Its shape resembles a traditional musical instrument called “tsuzumi“, which is a Japanese hand drum. Tsuzumi is still being used in the noh culture which is a kind of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Kanazawa is one of a few places in Japan where noh culture was strongly rooted.

The history of Kanazawa Castle dates back to 1546. Kanazawa Mido Monastery was erected under the auspices of the Honganji Temple. Construction of the castle has started in 1580, with the command of the great leader of the Oda Nobunaga.

Oda Nobunaga was a powerful feudal lord of Japan in the late 16th century. He is regarded as one of three of the biggest unifiers of Japan, along with his retainers Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. During his later life, he controlled almost half of all provinces. Nobunaga was widely known as a perfect tactician, a great commander and a brave reformer.

In 1583, one of the leading generals of Oda Nobunaga – Maeda Toshiie, moved to the castle. The Maeda clan was leaving there for another 14 generations, until 1869, when Meiji Restaurant began. During the reign of the Maeda clan: arts and crafts developed in Kanazawa, as it was fully supported by the lords. Thanks to this, Kanazawa today is famous for Kutani-coloured pottery, lacquerware decorated with gold, hand-painted silk and household Buddhist altars.

The castle burnt down several times over the centuries, but the last fire in 1888 destroyed the majority of the buildings. Only a few of them have survived, including the Ishikawa gate and defensive towers. After the fire, part of the castle was still being used as a military base during World War II. The remains of the castle were also used as a campus of Kanazawa University for several decades, until 1995. In 2001, part of the castle was rebuilt according to the original plan, and it is available to visitors now.

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden is considered “one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan“. It is said that it was created in the 5th century and served as a private garden for Lord Tsunanoria. He built a Renchiochin tea house at this place, and so the park was named Renchitei. Between 1620 and 1840 park was expanded by lord Maeda’s clan, when the 12th lord Narinaga and 13th lord Nariyasu gave him a shape that we can still see today. The Kenrokuen name was given to this place in 1822 and means “one, that has six attributes of a perfect landscape”. Criteria were as follows: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourses and panoramas. The name derives from a gardening book written by Li Gefei, a famous Chinese poet.

The Kenrokuen Garden extends over an area of 11 hectares and was opened to the public in 1871. There are more than 2 million visitors a year in this place. Kenrokuen is open all year round, and each season shows different beauties of nature. There are plum trees, cherry trees and rhododendrons which are in full bloom in the springtime. In the summertime, it is possible to see blooming iris flowers, and autumn attracts blooming chrysanthemums and maple trees with purple boughs. In winter – pine trees must be supported with special “yukitsuri” ropes, so they do not break under the heavy snow. There are also numerous ponds, streams, bridges, waterfalls, groves, rocks and walking paths. There are about 160 species of plants and over 8,200 trees, so it is worth spending at least a few hours when visiting this place.

In 1922 Kenrokuen Garden was designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty, and in 1985 as a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty.

The most important symbols of the park

In the garden, which is also a landscaped park – one should pay attention not only to the beautiful nature but also to its architecture.

  • Kotojitoro lantern: stone lantern, the true symbol of Kenrokuen. This lantern has two legs, which are said to resemble Kotoji, the bridge under the strings of a koto instrument. It is 2.67 meters high. The lantern is the most impressive emblematic of the park and is famous also outside of Japan.
  • Karasakinomatsu Pine – this majestic pine tree is one of the best-known trees in the garden. The 13th lord Noriyasu, from the Maeda clan – has planted the seeds, and since that time the pine trees have grown to their present size.
  • Funsui Fountain – this is the oldest fountain in Japan. Its water comes from Kasamigaike Pond, and it works by natural pressure caused by the difference in the levels of the ponds. Normally the fountain is 3,5m high, but its high changes depending on the level of the surface.
  • Hanamibashi bridge – it is also known as a “Flower -viewing bridge”, as many beautiful flowers and cherry blossoms can be seen from this place.
  • Shiguretei Tea House – originally it was built as a rest house called Renchiochin in 1676 when 5th lord Tsunanori started constructions of the garden. It was relocated by the 6th lord Yoshinori in front of the present fountain and named Shiguretei. The house was fully renovated in 2000 and reopened as a tea house. It is now a place where many cultural events take place.
  • Yugaotei Tea House – the oldest building in the garden, built in the year 1774 for performing the tea ceremony.
  • Gankobashi bridge (Flying Wild Geese) – this bridge is made of 11 red tomuro stones laid out to look like wild geese flying in formation. It is also called Kikkobashi (Tortise shell) Bridge, due to the specific shape of each stone.

Kanazawa – Oyama Jinja Shrine

The Oyama Jinja Shrine is dedicated to general Toshiie. It was built in 1599 by his successors, on the hillside of Utatsu mountain. The temple served as the burial place of Lord Maeda. In 1873 it was moved to its present location.

The Oyama Shrine is famous for its unusual gate, designed by a Dutch architect in 1875. During contractions, he used a mix of traditional Japanese, Chinese, and European religious architectural elements. The first level of the gate depicts a mixture of Japanese and Chinese religious influences, while its upper part serves as a lighthouse and was built under the influence of the Dutch style. Here, special attention should be paid to the colourful stained-glass windows.

In the sanctuary, there is a statue of the lord Maeda Toshiie, seating on a horse. Furthermore, there is also a charming garden with a pond, stone lantern and numerous statues.

Higashi Chaya District – Geisha district

Geishas are continuing to perform their profession in this place. Entertaining their guests includes singing, poem reciting, dancing, playing on traditional musical instruments and a tea ceremony.

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