Kenrokuen

Winter Illumination at Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Gardens

Winter “Illumination” is more popular in Japan than I have experienced anywhere else. Case and point, when I showed some students a video of Christmas decorations on houses, several of them shouted “ILLUMINATION”, but didn’t know “light”. I happened upon Kanazawa’s illumination at the Kenrokuen gardens by chance. I’ve been to the gardens once before in the summer, and it was nice to see the same sights with blankets of snow.

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Day Trip to Kanazawa

Ah, the long weekend! A chance to wind down after a hectic week of teaching and seize the opportunity of extra time to take a quick trip to the neighbouring Prefecture of Ishikawa.

We left in the morning and arrived just in time for a lunch of (of course) Ramen.

The main attraction was the Kanazawa Castle park and Kenrokuen gardens, an enormous property full of winding paths and buildings. The castle itself was built in the 1500s and burnt down several times. Now what remains are the many utility buildings that have also been reconstructed, the largest of which is the Gojikken Nagaya warehouse reconstructed in 2001. It’s recent construction (although it uses traditional building techniques) makes the inside of the building feel more like the swanky interior of an upscale vacation home than a warehouse.

Then we walked through the massive and meticulously groomed Kenrokuen gardens, enjoying the lush trees and flowing water… an accompanying green tea ice cream cone making it all the more sweeter.

The final stop was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa much to the delight of the Art History nerd in me. The circular building features high ceilings and glass walls that often allow views straight through to other parts of the museum. As its name suggests, the museum was filled with Contemporary art, mostly video and installation work. In many of my contemporary art classes we talked at length about the impact that a museum’s space has on its visitors. That the construction of the building, positioning of art work, the text on the walls and much more all inform, dictate, and facilitate an experience that extends far beyond visual perception. I certainly felt this as I walked from room to room, standing in the dark watching a film, or sitting in a glass room listening to a poem as those on the outside stared in at me.

An extremely captivating work was Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool” of 2001. At first glance it seems to be a typical swimming pool, save for its positioning in the middle of a museum. But standing on its edge, viewers can look down and see the shapes of other people underneath the water. The work is multi-level, and visitors can enter into a room underneath the pool and stand beneath the surface of the water. It’s an absolutely simple yet thrilling moment to re-experience the familiar setting of a backyard pool.