….and now for something completely different

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Our travels took us to the Centre for Advanced Science and Technology in Hyogo (CAST).  I was expecting many intelligent looking people in white coats scurrying around doing important and intelligent stuff.  Instead, we came across dead plants on mounds. … Continue reading

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The Logic of the Place of Nothingness

Another full-on day in Kyoto.  Today we walked the Philosopher’s Walk.  A pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree lined canal.  The route is so-named because the influential 20th century Japanese philosopher, professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have wandered the path for daily meditation. One of his famous papers is The Logic of the Place of Nothingness.  A good description of the inside of my head at this stage of our journey….I was still replete from seeing Saiho-ji.

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Murin-an is a late 19th century residential stroll garden.  It is a delight because it is much less contrived looking than some of the gardens we have visited.  It has many aspects of the larger landscape in miniature….meadow, reflective ponds, cascades and hills.   It was created by an eminent designer, Ogawa Jihei and it would seem that the aim here is to be as much like nature as possible.

Upon our meadering, as we philosophised and snapped photos like the tourists we are, we stumbled upon an amazing Romanesque aqueduct by the temple of Nanzen-ji.  Having had my fill of temples, this was much more exciting.  It was also a great way to get out of the amazing heat of the day.

Just when I thought I could not love any more gardens we entered into Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), the companion piece to Kinkaku-ji (the Gold Pavilion).  Walking along a hedge lined path not knowing what to expect we rounded a corner and were met with the sight of a large truncated gravel cone resembling Mount Fuji surrounded by raked gravel rippling waves representing the sea.  Wow.  We then walked a path climbing the hill to a spring and then down the other side enjoying the canopy of Acers and the floor of moss.  It was an interesting contrast to the modernist-like gravel formations, actually it was a great contrast.

One more garden for the day.  The residence of Mirei Shigemori.  He was a notable modern Japanese landscape architect (1896-1975) and historian of Japanese gardens.  I’ve already mentioned one his gardens, Tofuku-ji with the modernist granite checkerboard pattern in moss.  Beautiful.

His own residence is a traditional town house dating from 1789.  The main garden has four rock configurations representing the Elysian Islands surrounded by raked gravel.  The rocks are a beautiful “blue rock” from the Awa region in Japan.  It’s a breathtaking area in a small space.  The interior of the tea room was equally artful with bold designs on the walls and very simple veranda to view the garden in peace.

I’d had enough by the end of the day.  Time for biru.



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Looking back, this was one of the best days I experienced in Japan.  Two enormously different gardens, and both magnificent. Saiho-ji maintains one of Japans most popular gardens. It has a pristine forest and pond set in mossy banks, lush, … Continue reading

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Kyoto – west sector

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We started off the day early and made good time getting to the west part of Kyoto, the mountains of Arashiyama.  We had time for tea and toast, which we have found to bea relief from rice and fish for breakfast.

The group invaded a tiny side street establishment that had tea and toast.  The locals would walk in wide-eyed at the bustling place and then sit at the counter-bench trying to ignore the cacophony that we made.  The toast that they serve are like door-stops, huge slaps of bread lightly toasted and dripping with real butter….yuummmm.

Anyway, onwards we went to the famous Zen temple of Tenryu-ji which also houses the beautiful bamboo groves.  These are highly maintained around the temple and are amazing to walk through.  Dense walls of vertical verdancy on either side blocking the sun and the heat of the day.  As we walked further from the temple, the groves become more unkempt and realistic, I liked that, much like my garden at home.

The lotus pictures came from the Tenryu-ji entrance way.  Interesting to note, that not only are the lotus plants a beauty to look upon, tenderly fried tempura style is an absolute delight!

We travelled through the Arashiyama mountains on the Sagano Romantic Train (Sagano Torokko Ressha)  which follows the course of the Hozu River on a narrow-gauge track through beautiful scenery…. not so much romance.

This day we walked, and we walked, and we walked.  A good way to sneak views of private gardens and little gems that may have escaped our notice.


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Nara – the old capital

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The attraction that we were drawn to in Nara was Todai-ji – a Buddhist temple of grand proportions and a giant bronze Buddha.  I wondered if Buddha would have approved such blatant opulence.

The presence of free-roaming deer was  special experience, I enjoyed being told off by a 4 foot elderly Japanese lady as we hadn’t paid for food to give to deer but were instead just giving them a pat….a no-no apparently.  They moseyed around the tourists accepting food and pats alike, would sit down and sleep in the middle of big crowd, very adorable.

The place hummed with tourists and it was particularly hot.

Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan, established in 710 AD, it saw the development of Japan’s first arts, crafts, and literature. Nara became the political and cultural center of Japan before it moved to Kyoto, and it established many shrines, temples, palaces, and pagodas. Most of Nara’s historical buildings remain, and they are surrounded by a large and spacious park.


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Kyoto day 2 – a very busy day

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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.

…and finally.

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.

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Kyoto – the first day

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Kyoto used to be the imperial capital of Japan, hence the name Kyoto which means capital city.  Makes sense.  It has a population of 1.5 million people and most of them stayed in our hostel, Khaosan with us.  However, it … Continue reading

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