Of Bamboo, Moss, and Cricketsong
On the west edge of Kyoto, south of Matsuo where I once lived as a student, is a little cluster of Zen temples. I’m surprised I never visited them until now- they’re a modest walking distance from my old homestay- but you know Kyoto, there’s always something else to discover.
Me and my wife went there in the height of sakura season. It’s about time we traveled a little more.
The main temple in the area, known as Kokedera (the “Moss Temple”), is of ancient but obscure origin, abandoned and then reinstated in the 14th century. It’s gardens are legendary. We didn’t go. Not because we passed it over, but because it’s actually really hard to visit. One must write a postcard, wait for a reply, and do a little monking in order to wander the grounds. We should really do that sometime, but this was a bit too spur of the moment to make it.
Downstream from Kokedera is Suzumushidera (the “Cricket Temple”), a very small but well-visited 18th century site. People are attracted by the temple’s reputedly potent wish-granting powers, though there are certain stipulations regarding what and how you can ask for such things. Don’t want to be greedy, after all. Crickets are the other specialty of the temple, kept in large numbers for their ringing song in a practice that goes back at least a thousand years.
Uphill is Jizoin, or Takedera (“Bamboo Temple”), an independent 14th century site established by the Hosokawa, a powerful samurai family under the Ashikaga Shogunate. It’s quiet and tucked out of the way, and lives up to its name.
Now, I just have to save a date for an appointment to Kokedera, eh?