Another early morning in paradise. We met for rice and fish breakfast washed down with iced coffee fairly early in order to get a jump on the tourists at the Ryoan-ji temple. It was so incredibly worth it….see photos.
Ryoan-ji – a zen temple that houses one of the finest examples of karesansui, dry garden, in the world. It is a 25m x 10m rectangle of white gravel, raked carefully each day by monks. There are 15 stones in differing sizes carefully grouped amongst the gravel and the only vegetation is some moss.
The garden is meant to be viewed from a seated position on the veranda. Important to note that the entire composition of the garden and rocks cannot be viewed from just one angle, only fourteen. It is said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.
Japanese gardens tend to strive to re-create natural settings and to symbolize the different teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism, so depending upon your views there can be many interpretations of this garden. Here are a couple that have been noted: Is a tiger leading her cubs? The sea, dotted with islands?
I did not attain enlightenment or a very good angle shot on my camera and I think that the monks had a wicked sense of humour. Well you would too, if you spent as much time as they did considering where to place each and every one of those rocks. It was a very thoughtful place but I much preferred the walk up to the karesansui, around the Kyoyochi pond that had blooming waterlillies and a magnificent crane that kindly stood still for a few moments. It was a beautiful still morning and cool enough so that we weren’t yet swimming in our own sweat. That would come later.
Next stop in our whirlwind tour.
Ninna-ji – founded in 888 it was formerly called the Old Imperial Palace of Omuro. It was the residence for the ex-emperor. It is now a World Heritage site, and with good reason for the treasures it holds. Before entering Ninna-ji you must pass the two guardians, Agyo Nio and Ungyo Nio, fierce figures as you can see from photos. They were so named to mean Guardian of the left room and Guardian of the right room. I love their pragmatism.
The northern garden is where most of my images were taken as a fairly large area was under reconstruction. Speaking of which, the northern garden had been reconstructed in 2010. They show the raked gravel garden in front of the viewing pond.
Kinkaku-ji – the Golden Pavilion. Quite obvious which photo this is I think. The pavilion is a buddhist hall (shariden) that contains relics of Buddha and it is part of a Zen Buddhist temple that is formally named Rokuon-ji Temple.
The garden and buildings, centered around the Golden Pavillion are said (or were) to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. The rocks were donated by various provincial lords of the period and the pond garden is designed for strolling. I would agree that it was a great representation of Buddha’s pure land and a really enjoyable experience.
Daitoku-ji – this is a collection of subtemples used for study and meditation by monks of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Not all temples are open for public viewing as it is a working temple. Included within the complex is Daisen-in and Ryogen-in which we were able to visit. Interestingly, we were unable to take photos from the Daisen-in temple but did not have such issues at Ryogen-in.
Daisen-in has two gardens, one abstract and symbolic with two white gravel mounds, surrounded by white gravel raked into different patterns. Oh how those winter nights must fly by for the monks. The second garden is a representation of a stream flowing from remote mountains toward the sea. It is an expression of a Zen belief that even a small plot can be a universe in microcosm. All this explained to us by a lovely Japanese lady in a crazy mixture of pidgin English and hand gestures….our language interpretation had improved dramatically by this time, clearly.
Ryogen-in consists of five gardens, I have included three of them:
The Isshidan of the Ryogen-in. This is a modern construction and the large island with the rock in the centre replaced a great tree that had survived into the last decades of the twentieth century. The stones positions within the garden represent a crane, a turtle and mythical mountain islands.
The Ryugin-tei is the oldest of the five gardens, this rectangle of moss and stones has been attributed to the landscape painter Soami. The moss that currently covers the garden conceals the original field of crushed stone. The major group of rocks in the center of the garden has been touted to represent Mt. Sumeru, the universal axis of Hindu cosmology, or the Daoist Isles of the Blest. In both interpretation, the moss represents the sea.
The third garden, “A-Un” consists of a narrow rectangle of raked gravel and three stones. Out of the three I found this to be my favourite. It was unassuming and the scale seemed right. It was a pleasure to view and was not full of righteous ambiguity.
We walked through the Kyoto Botanic Gardens on the way to the Garden of Fine Art. We were particularly tired and “templed out” by this stage, so seeing some unstaged foliage and ungroomed trees was a startling contrast to the days discoveries.
To end the day with a little bit of madness that is Tadao Ando was fitting. The Garden of Fine Art is an outdoor art garden, built by the renowned architect. It is heavily built of his trademark concrete and features eight classic works of art that are recreated on strong porcelain panels. These include Monet, “Water Lilies: Morning”, Michelangelo, “Last Judgement”, Renoir, “On the Terrace”, Leonardo da Vinci, “Last Supper”, and van Gogh, “Road with Cypress and Star”.
The whole experience of the “garden” is one of movement and glimpses of famous images through heavy concrete windows. It’s topped off with the continuous splashing of the waterfall which if one was in a less congenial mood may have resembled tinnitus.
By the end of the day we had expired like the poor hemerocallis. Uh oh, I feel a haiku coming on.