Summer in Japan (Tentaibutsurigaku): Kanazawa, Kenrokuen Garden, and the “Kotonoha no Niwa” Effect

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my time here, so I’ll start these posts back up by talking about some of the stuff I did during my third week here near the end of June. Which would be that I pretty much toured around Japan for a week along with the other summer student here (which brought the total number of undergrads here to two!) and one of our advisers. We’d managed to secure a tour of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector that week (to a astronomer/physicist touring a detector is pretty exciting), and decided that as long as we were traveling we might as well take the rest of the week to visit some other areas around Japan. In the end we managed to visit Kanazawa, Kamioka, Nara, Kyoto, and Ise in the span of a week It was intense but gratifying, full of a multitude of interesting sights and experiences.

Here I’ll be talking about the first part of the trip – the visit to Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden.

We first visited Kanazawa on Tuesday morning after spending the night in a hotel in Toyama. Since we were getting a tour of Super-K that afternoon, we decided that we could try and visit the flower gardens early in the morning. So we got up around 6:15am or so in order to catch a 7am train to Kanazawa. Having gone to bed after midnight, I was pretty tired on the train ride over. Plus I’m not so much of a morning person – I find my most productive hours are between 11pm and 3am. Although when I was jet-lagged in Hungary last summer I discovered that 5am-8am is also an incredibly productive period. Maybe I should consider trying to shift my schedule around…


Anyways, the train station at Kanazawa (above) was pretty cool, as was most of the walk there. There were a bunch of statues alongside the road although I didn’t take too many pictures. The garden itself is nearby Kanazawa Castle, and so after about 10 minutes on the road we took a detour through the grounds in order to take a look. Although it’s not too impressive as far as castles go (but still – it’s an effing CASTLE), it was an impressive sight to the uninitiated.IMG_0853

After the stroll, we decided to stop by some vending machines to grab a drink, because they’re everywhere and THE BEST THING EVER. Seriously – I’m going to miss them so much back in the US. Once at the machine we were in for a pleasant surprise.


Yes indeed – DBZ: Kai drinks! And you could collect all 12 cans (5 of each type, plus two special cans) as well! Of course, I had to buy one.


It actually tasted quite good, so I consider that money very well spent. Plus the Ginyu Force still holds a special place in my heart, so that was an added bonus.

After that, we headed over to the actual gardens. It was drizzling that morning, which I think was the prefect condition for visiting such a place. I can’t really describe it much better, so let me throw up some pictures.

IMG_0862 IMG_0863 IMG_0864 IMG_0865 IMG_0866 IMG_0867 IMG_0868 IMG_0869


IMG_0873 IMG_0878 IMG_0879 IMG_0880 IMG_0883 IMG_0884 IMG_0888

Now, I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, but my visit to the garden was tinged with memories of Makoto Shinkai’s Kotonoha no Niwa, which I had watched a couple weeks back. Now, I think Guandian Enzo summarizes perfectly what makes Shinkai’s movies – and this most recent one in particular – so powerful for me. Namely, he makes manages to make the real hyperreal. I remember first showing 5cm/s to a friend, who pinpointed this exact quality almost immediately after finishing the movie . He then declared Shinkai would do a fantastic adaptation of Gatsby (which I, of course, vigorously agreed with).

Regardless though, that concept of trying to see the hyperreal dominated my entire time at the park. I constantly kept trying to see the beauty that was in Shinkai’s film in real life. Examining the water drops on the pond. Closing my eyes and listening to the shuffles and conversations of other visitors. Watching the grass rustle in the wind. Resting inside a small wooden enclosure looking out at the sea of green. Peeking through a bush to catch a glimpse of an enclosed pond. Admiring the stream and waterfall off to the side as we walked along the garden paths.

I’m ultimately not sure whether Kotonoha no Niwa was a good or bad thing. I firmly believe it was a positive influence, driving me really to try and appreciate the natural beauty of the place around me. I don’t think I would’ve taken the visit as seriously, or maybe as “spiritually”, as I did without it. But it also might have diminished from the beauty of the natural thing, as I was obsessed with trying to create a hyperreal fantasy from mere reality. If you noticed, some of the pictures also have been slightly touched up to heighten the contrast and emphasize the colors as well to try and create just this effect. The mass of green was just such an integral part of my experience in both cases, and trying to capture that feeling in pictures is difficult, that it was the best I could come up with. Regardless of that though, this is just one example of the way that anime has colored the way I view things (so there’s some Watamote vibes there as well).


Aside from the beautiful atmosphere, scenery, and environment, there was one other element of the garden that caught my attention. It seemed that Basho (a famous Japanese poet renowned for his haikus) had composed one about the area. In the same vein, I felt inspired to try and write my own – to somehow capture the essence of the place and my visit in only 17 syllables. Although not in Japanese, I felt somewhat satisfied with the result:

Blazing green brushstrokes
running blue watercolors
drip on my canvas

2 responses to “Summer in Japan (Tentaibutsurigaku): Kanazawa, Kenrokuen Garden, and the “Kotonoha no Niwa” Effect

  1. He then declared Shinkai would do a fantastic adaptation of Gatsby (which I, of course, vigorously agreed with).

    My precise thoughts! Shinkai is to art and animation what Fitzgerald is to prose. I feel like people tend to miss the point with Shinkai when they say things like “the story is boring but the art is pretty” or just shallow observations in general about the beauty in the visuals. It’s more than just looking good, it’s conveying a worldview, evoking a specific, gentle feeling. It’s like a half-remembered memory of a cloudy morning we should never have forgotten, soft rain broken up with hesitant rays of sunshine; tender, beautiful and just a little sad.

    Anyway, you took some really excellent photos. You should be proud of yourself for them. And while I’m not too fussed on the first line of your haiku, you did a great job with the poetry too. Nice job on your first try; looks like you’re an artist at heart. So much green in your pics, too. You captured the lushness in your surroundings well.

    And yeah, those vending machines are real handy, aren’t they? Totally jealous of you for the DBZ drinks hahahaha. Glad to hear you’re having fun in Japan!

    • it’s conveying a worldview, evoking a specific, gentle feeling

      Exactly! Shinkai’s stories are first and foremost an experience rather than a normal narrative. You just let them slowly wash over you and savor the feelings while they last.

      It’s like a half-remembered memory of a cloudy morning we should never have forgotten, soft rain broken up with hesitant rays of sunshine; tender, beautiful and just a little sad.

      *sniff sniff* 。:゚(。ノω\。)゚・。

      you took some really excellent photos

      Thanks – I was surprised myself at how good they turned out! iPhone cameras are surprisingly good.

      those vending machines are real handy, aren’t they?

      Omg so much. I honestly think I’m completely dependent on them already. I’m probably going to be in shock when I return to the States and have to deal with the horror that is no vending machines every other block.

      And definitely still having a blast here!

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