Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Japan Days 18 & 19: Kenrokuen

Brightly red burning
a heartlessly bitter sun
but spring's in the breeze
-Matsuo Basho, a haiku displayed within the Kenrokuen gardens
(terribly adapted by Craig from existing translations to more accurately reflect our experience)

A big reason for us to visit Kanazawa was that it contains one of the three great Japanese gardens, Kenrokuen. We walked the gardens twice, the first time to make sure we got there in the sunshine, with bad weather threatening the rest of our visit, and again in the early morning to have it to ourselves and avoid the tour groups. The magnificence of the gardens does not translate to pictures amazingly well, but that does not mean you will be subjected to any fewer photos.

Japanese gardens have six elements that combine to 'harmonize conflicting landscapes to produce contrasting beauties''. Kenrokuen is one of few that has all six of these features and this is part of what makes it a great garden. It also gives it its name which can be translated as “garden of six elements”.

The six elements are presented in seemingly contradictory pairs, at least in the pamphlet we were given.

Spaciousness and Seclusion: it was remarkable how well many different points of the gardens created both experiences simultaneously.

Artifice and Antiquity: the built environment and artificial natural elements should harmonize with the natural setting.
The bridge is actually a single slab of stone but by cutting into the side it creates a feeling of lightness.
Water courses and Panoramas: thinking back a few hundred years the effort and ingenuity required to have a massive pond, perfectly controlled streams creating hypnotic patterns as they flowed over just the right number of pebbles, and a waterfall, all on top of a hill with views of the surrounding city and distant mountains was, and continues to be, an impressive feat.

Notice how the tree branches extending out over the pond blur the line between water and land?
Baby neglected to turn a full 90° at the bend
to enjoy the juxtaposition of the two views.
Allowing Baby to walk and wander at her slow and meandering pace was a wonderful way to enjoy the gardens as it allowed for prolonged viewing of some scenes and for us to take the time to enjoy how the view changes with each step.

We cannot overstate the importance of watching the Japanese Style Originator episode on Japanese gardens before visiting. The episode specifically goes through the various parts of Kenrokuen and explains the significance and the meaning of each bridge and lantern and their placement. However, it not only increased our enjoyment of this garden, throughout the trip we noticed trees shaped to follow the contours of the shoreline or other minute, beautiful, details that we would have otherwise walked right by. (You may have noticed a few nuggets of wisdom from the episode peppered into the captions.)

Alas, like any great experience, it comes to an end, but waiting for the bus as you watch the movements of golden and red fish gently disturb the reflection of a castle lets the feeling linger just a little longer.

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