Tied up in trees

A serious snowfall in both islands of New Zealand over the past few days has spurred me into posting about some garden work I saw in Japan last year.

Every year on November 1 workmen begin tying ropes to the pines in the famous Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa (on Japan’s west coast). Yukizuri, which literally means snow hanging, helps the branches bear the weight of Kanazawa’s ‘heavy’ (moisture-laden) snow and have become a symbol for the city. The work always begins on the same date and so has become a ‘seasonal marker’ for the city’s inhabitants, even though snow generally doesn’t fall until January.

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Yukizuri work is labour intensive with hundreds of ropes attached to a single tree. Not sure if there’s a health and safety officer present! Photo: Sandra Simpson

We saw yukizuri used in other places and on other types of tree, but it is something particularly associated with the pines of Kanazawa. One online source says the method was adapted from the practice of supporting  apple tree branches laden with fruit. Pines have a special place in the symbolism of Japan as the tree is among the many signifiers for long life, as well as good fortune and virtue. Read more about its symbolism here.

The Kenrokuen yukizuri trees are lit at night and look spectacular. The garden was started in about 1676 as a Chinese-style stroll garden, destroyed by fire in 1759 and restored from 1774 before opening its 11.4ha to the public in 1874.

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Yukizuri detail. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kenrokuen literally means combining (ken) – six (roku) – garden (en) with the ‘six attributes that make up a perfect garden’ being grandness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, waterways (water is piped from a river 11km away) and lookout views. It is considered one of the three best gardens in Japan.

Read more about the garden here.

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Souvenir biscuits: The top one shows yukizuri and the bottom Kotoji-toro,  the stone lantern in Kenrokuen famous for its two legs of different length. Photo: Sandra Simpson