Kenrokuen Garden

One of the reasons we traveled to Kanazawa was to see Kenrokuen Garden. It is officially designated as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Why aren’t there officially Three Great Gardens of the United States? (Although if they were designated now, strings would undoubtedly be pulled to make one of them Mar-a-Lago.)


Kotoji Toro, the two-legged stone lantern (above), is an iconic symbol of Kenrokuen. It is very, very famous in Japan.


Here’s a closer look. There is just a touch of autumn color of the tree above. I’ve tried to think of an equivalent to Kotoji Toro in American culture, but I really can’t. Maybe you can think of something?


Judy skillfully excludes people from almost all of her garden shots, but this picture shows a line of folks waiting to have their picture taken in front of Kotoji Toro. All kinds of people were in line – school kids (many on field trips), young couples, old folks.


One of the things we saw on both our trips to Japan was people wearing kimonos and other traditional garb while strolling in gardens and other scenic spots. The clothes are rentals, and generally not cheap.

It turns out that this is a thing, kind of like going to Colorado and getting dressed up in cowboy clothes. It’s popular with the Japanese to some extent, but reportedly more popular with Chinese and Korean tourists. A Japanese person we talked to was very disapproving because the foreign tourists tended to wear the wrong kind of kimonos for the occasion. Judy and I were not tempted to give it a try.


Back to the garden. Kenrokuen dates back to the 17th Century. It was built by the Maeda clan, the same people who built Kanazawa Castle after subduing the Kingdom of Peasants. In fact, Kenrokuen started as the outer garden for the castle.


Kenrokuen covers about 25 acres, and an amazing number of features are packed into this space. Still, the garden feels very spacious. The many water features, like Kasumigaike Pond, above, are wonderful. Look how that Miscanthus grass catches the light.


This picture was taken from the top of an artificial hill created with excavated soil. There are arborists working on the ancient pine tree across the water.


We loved the naturalistic but man-made streams that wander throughout Kenrokuen.


To the left is the Midori waterfall, with a centuries-old stone pagoda to the right.



We spent a good deal of time watching this Swallowtail Butterfly (anyone know the species?) nectaring on Hosta flowers.



This is called Flying Geese Bridge, because its shape is similar to a formation of migrating geese.


This scene makes me wish desperately that we had been able to visit in the spring. There are thousands of irises planted on either side of the water, along with plum and cherry trees.


This is another one of the venerable pine trees to be found at Kenrokuen.


Kenrokuen is one those Japanese gardens that are covered in places with carpets of cool green moss. There is something magical about the dappled light on the moss.




Sadly, maintaining a perfect carpet of moss is not something that happens without effort. We saw groups of gardeners painstakingly pulling up grass and weeds. I wonder if they also have a misting system – if so, it was well hidden.


There’s a great deal at Kenrokuen that we have left out of this post. I enjoyed visiting this garden, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I suspect a visit in spring or later in fall would have been much more overwhelming.

52 Comments on “Kenrokuen Garden”

  1. This was a beautiful garden. We were able to visit twice, so we could soak up the ambiance of the place. I hate rushing through gardens, you can’t really get the feel that way.

    I’m contemplating Jason’s question about what is the American equivalent of Kotoji Toro. I think people in Japan are much more serious about gardens, as a significant part of the culture. I don’t think there is an equivalent in American gardening, because gardens don’t have the same cultural significance. I was trying to think of great American gardens or parks – Central Park, Golden Gate Park, the lakefront in Chicago. Not as iconic as Kotoji Toro.

    We used to revere massive infrastructure – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam. Or science – launching space shuttles, for example.

    Now I guess it’s the Mall of America. Yikes, I didn’t mean for this comment to take that kind of turn!

    Maybe what’s iconic is the land itself – the Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Mississippi River, Cape Cod, etc. Aside from Mount Fuji (Fuji-San, highly revered), I am not aware that the Japanese landscape is as dramatic.

    Instead, they have gardens that have been cultivated for centuries.

  2. Beautiful photos – applause to the photographer. I love moss so those shots amazed me, but better them than me pulling those tiny shoots of grass that always creep in. I found the comment interesting about here in US that we value the land but not necessarily beautiful gardens. I never thought of it, but I’m thinking that may be closer to the truth.

  3. Just as I was thinking this was my favorite of the gardens you have shown I read your last statement. This garden was well represented by Judy’s pictures and your narration. I enjoyed seeing the people in the traditional dress. The kimono was so colorful in all that green and grey.

  4. Weeding moss–it boggles my mind a bit. These Japanese gardens give me an odd feeling as if I’ve been constrained for too long and want to break out in a run. There’s something almost unsettling to me in putting in so much human effort to constrain and shape a landscape to make it look natural–yet not.

  5. What a lovely garden. I finally got rid of my big moss garden as I realized it was the highest maintenance part of my garden. I think the American equivalent to that lantern would have to be the golden arches — so similar in shape to the base of the lantern. And you know that Mar-a-Lago would be the number one garden: the best, the biggest, the most flowers, the most visitors. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).

  6. Even if it didn’t live up to your expectations, it is still a lovely Japanese garden. I much prefer this kind of garden to the so-called Japanese gardens I have seen in Germany or the UK. Authentic, with a touch of mystery and magic. I especially love the moss and the shaped trees. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I just stumbled onto your blog from The Blooming Garden – thanks for the lovely tour of Kenrokuen! All the soft variations of green are wonderful. If this is what it looks like in early February, it must be fabulous in the warmer months, especially with those irises in bloom…

  8. I like looking at Japanese gardens, in part because they are so different to anything I see in Australia, and their perfection is part of their charm. I love the streams, the butterfly and even the moss….but especially some of the trees….I would love to see the gardens in spring, irises on the borders of water, and cherry trees…sounds wonderful! Thanks for the tour, and great photos Judy.

  9. I would think this garden would be more impressive in the spring or fall too.

    It’s kind of pitiful that the US doesn’t have any national gardens, but Americans are too fond of sitting on their mowers and then sitting in front of the TV watching sports.
    “(Although if they were designated now, strings would undoubtedly be pulled to make one of them Mar-a-Lago.)” Too true. I hate him so much. I’m not exaggerating.

  10. Your pictures have made me very curious, Jason! Today in 5 weeks I wil be there! By the way we add some more days to our trip.
    You made me think about beautiful gardens in Germany. I also don’t think that we have ” 3 important gardens”. The “English Garden” in Munich is one of the biggest parks of the world. Like Central Park in NY, just bigger. Palmengarten in Frankfurt for people who are especially interested in plants. There are also famous Rosegardens here (Sangershausen). Maybe the park of Sansoucci in Potsdam where Frederic the Great lived.

  11. I think your butterfly is a Red Helen – lovely photo of it with those delicate hosta flowers! To be honest, I was a little… I don’t want to say disappointed when I visited the large gardens of Japan, but I was expecting something different. But I did go in early spring and the waterways were a blue river of irises, which is really something to see!
    I’ve heard amazing things about the moss around certain temples on the Philosopher’s Walk, how it grows over the sculptures, up the trees, over the buildings, making it a *profoundly* green and soft experience.

  12. Hello Jason, there are some incredible specimen trees in that garden. The picture of the workers pulling up grass to may way for moss made me smile as it occurs naturally in our garden where there are swathes of it where there was once grass – as wet soil will do that. I couldn’t imagine having to select just three Great Gardens in the UK, it’s impossible, there are just too many!

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