難波の南蛮、戎橋の夷。

Kyoto Temple Crawl

I lived in Kyoto once for eight months, and yet there is still so much I haven’t seen.  Recently I’ve worked to remedy some of that.

On the northern edge of the city, up against the mountains, is an area of great national and historical significance.  Despite its fame, it is still a rather quiet neighborhood with limited train access, which might explain why my younger self never got to it.  I got up early on a day off, though, took the bus up, and there I was for a good old Buddhist temple crawl.

I began with Kinkakuji, a temple built at the turn of the 15th century by great shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu as his retirement villa.  In an earlier post, I explored Ginkakuji, built by his grandson in similar fashion.  This one, though, is far more famous for being covered in gold.  Real gold!  On an ordinary day, this area is so packed with tourists it’s impossible to move freely through the site.

Good thing my day off of work is Wednesday, so I could see the temple in peace, and take pictures that make it look like nobody’s there.

 

I didn’t think I’d be impressed, but I could honestly not believe that building was real.  The 15th-century original might have survived, but it was burned down in 1950 by one of the monks who lived there.  Why he did it is a great mystery he took to the grave, but standing there perhaps I could see why.  It was too much for this earth.

 

 

I sat down at a temple teahouse for some maccha, and hit the road east to Ryoanji, a temple from the late 15th century.  Ryoanji is famous, especially in Japanese art history studies, not for its architecture, but for possessing the archetypal Zen garden.  I, though, had no clue what to expect.

The great pond at Ryoanji

 

The main hall, a very simple building

 

And there it was, the Zen garden said to have inspired them all, the great of greats. I was surprised at its emptiness- but then again, this was Zen. I spent so long there, looking not only at the garden, but the roughness of the walls and how the snow lay.

 

It was when I tried to take photographs that I was truly awed by the garden...

I find that even if something gets lost in a photograph, I can usually capture something of what I saw when I was in a particular place.  Sometimes the picture even looks better than the moment itself.

As soon as I took these pictures, I was shocked to realize they conveyed nothing of what I could see.  It was almost literally not the same garden.  Either the breadth and suggestive power of peripheral vision, or the depth of stereoscopic vision, or the rapid glance of an eye’s movement, was missing.  These pictures may look interesting now, but had you been there they would have seemed pathetic.  Ryoanji was designed so that only living human eyes could look upon it.

 

 

Humbled, I left for Ninnaji.

The other two temples I had seen were young compared to Ninnaji, founded in the 9th century, the early days of Kyoto.  The temple was destroyed by the Onin War in the 1460s, and finally rebuilt in the 17th century after the lands had been unified.  Ninnaji formerly served as the interim imperial palace, so the site is divided into two sections, the palace and temple.

Flower arrangement in the former palace

 

Looking into the temple of Ninnaji, from the palace gardens.

 

 

 

 

The main hall

 

A plum grove in winter. The trees in bloom appeal to the Heian mind, but the bare trees appeal to the Zen mind.

 

Now the temples were closing, and my legs were tired.  I know but enough, as they say at Ryoanji.  I headed back south for some hot food.

Advertisements

2 responses

  1. lord kelvin

    Truly amazing

    February 7, 2011 at 7:23 AM

  2. antares

    Ninna-ji is gorgeous in spring. I definitely recommend making a return trip around April or May when the flowers are blooming. Just sitting there peacefully looking out at the garden is so soothing.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s