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Why Kenroku-en Takes the Crown

Japan originated one of the world’s most timeless gardening styles, so it’s no wonder that the country is home to several outstanding gardens. From Tokyo to Tohoku, and from Kanazawa to Kyushu, you can find an amazing Japanese garden almost anywhere you go in Japan.

Yet as a general rule, several gardens in Japan tend to stand out above the others. Three, specifically: Kairaku-en in Ibaraki prefecture’s Mito city; Koraku-en in Okayama; and Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en, which is the focus of today’s post.

I’ll open with a blunt question: Is Kenroku-en worth it? The answer, as you might imagine, is a clear yes, although there are some other things you should keep in mind as your visit approaches.

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How to Visit Kenroku-en

There’s no need to buy Kenroku-en tickets in advance. You can buy them at the entrance gate during the garden’s opening hours. Well, assuming you don’t go between sunrise and the opening time of 8 AM: Admission is complimentary during these hours. (They’re also an excellent time to because very few tourists are there, making this a prime photography period. 

This means, of course, that if you regularly find casino games without Gamstop here, you’ll be able to spend your money on more interesting things. For some tourists, this is a Geisha tea ceremony or a hands-on demonstration at the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum in nearby Higashi-chaya. For others, it’s a top-rated meal, or renting a car for a day trip from Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.

5 Key Facts About Kenroku-en

It’s right across from Kanazawa Castle


One of my favorite things about Kenroku-en? Unlike the other two of Japan’s top three gardens, it’s right in the heart of the city’s main attractions—just 15 minutes by foot from the Higashi-chaya and Kazuemachi Geisha districts, and literally connected by pedestrian bridge to Kanazawa Castle. It’s not only easy to visit; it’s practically impossible not to.

It’s home to several scenic areas


Another thing that makes Kenroku-en worth visiting is the various scenic areas within it, most of which were conceptualized all the way back in the late-19th century, when it opened. Notable ones include Kasumi-ga-ike pond and its famous Stone Lantern, Yamazaki-yama hill and tea houses including Yugao-tei, Shigure-tei and the most famous of all, Uchihashi-tei.

It’s meant to be seen in all seasons


I’m a huge fan of Japan’s seasons (especially as a photographer), and Kenroku-en really plays off of them—by design, no less. While sakura stand along evergreens in spring and blazing maples line the garden’s various ponds in autumn, irises emerge from within its shallow streams in summer; yuki-gakoi and yuki-tsuri ropes hold up its towering pines amid the heavy snows of winter.

It’s home to picturesque tea houses


Another feature that definitely makes Kenroku-en worth it is the tea houses I mentioned earlier in this post. Although they vary in size and the elaborateness of their menus, all allow you to slow down and take it views of the serenity around you without feeling rushes or like you have somewhere to be. Plus, matcha provides the perfect caffeine kick—and there’s never a bad time for one of those.

It’s open at night—but only sometimes


During one of my autumn trips to Kanazawa, I remember feeling extremely disappointed when I arrived to Kenroku-en in the evening, only to realize that the garden had closed at its normal times. Where there are limited autumn light-ups every years, you’ll need to check the garden’s official website to verify the dates of these (and other illuminations throughout the year).

When is the Best Time to Visit Kenroku-en?

As I mentioned earlier in this post, Kenroku-en was designed to exude unique beauty in every season—and indeed, under any kind of weather conditions. As a result, there’s no “right” or “wrong” time to go. It’s one of the rare places in Japan—in the world—that almost responds to whatever is happening around it. Every day is literally unique.

Indeed, rather than walking about when to visit Kenroku-en, my recommendation would be to go in as many different seasons as you can. Obviously, doing this necessitates you to plan many return to trips to Kanazawa. Now, this is not a tall order in my opinion, given how much there is to do in and around the city, and how much seasonal conditions chance the feel of everywhere in the Hokuriku region.


Other FAQ About Visiting Kenroku-en Garden

What is special about Kenroku-en?

Kenroku-en is special for two main reasons. First, that it’s one of Japan’s “three great gardens,” alongside Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Ibaraki prefecture’s Mito city. Secondly, it was purposely designed to be uniquely beautiful in each season, which invites visitors to try and and return as many times as possible.

How much does it cost to go to Kenroku-en garden?

As of May 2024, it costs just ¥320 for adults to visit Kenroku-en, ¥100 for children and nothing for seniors over 65 with valid ID. With the Japanese yen at historical lows, this is an incredibly low cost barrier to enter a legendary place of scenic beauty. Do note that if you arrive before opening time, you can enter the garden for free, regardless of your age.

How long does it take to see Kenroku-en garden?

Kenroku-en is a sprawling garden with multiple scenic areas, gradations in elevation and even a tea house where you can easily spend 30 minutes or longer. As a result, I’d plan to spend a minimum of an hour here, and potentially much longer than that.

The Bottom Line

Is Kenroku-en worth it? In my opinion, this oasis of serenity in Kanazawa is the most impressive of Japan’s “three great gardens.” Part of this is based on the eclecticism of its landscaping, be that in terms of purely seasonal trees and flowers, or in the way evergreens like famous, twisty pines adapt to each passing season—and you should see the garden in every season, if you can. There’s also the fact that Kanazawa is a tourism powerhouse, and Kenroku-en is located only a short walk from many of the other places where you’re likely to be. Take your trip to the next level—hire me to plan it!


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