Friday, December 14, 2012

Strolling through Kyoto's Temple Gardens

In Japan, sakura (cherry blossom) viewing is a popular outdoor activity in spring. Momiji (Japanese maple) viewing provides enjoyment in autumn. Kyoto is home to numerous temple gardens, many of them ideal locations for both sakura and momiji. My current favorite Zen gardens are Tenryū-ji, Tōfuku-ji, and Ryōan-ji, which I visited in April 2011, December 2011, and December 2012, respectively.  

Star magnolia at Tenryu-ji
Star magnolia at Tenryū-ji

Tenryū-ji, located in Arashiyama on the western outskirts of Kyoto, is famous for its stroll garden. My visit there took place less than a month after the March 11 earthquake. Nonetheless, visitors packed the gardens. The grounds required a separate admission ticket from that of the temple. A stroll through the garden proved worth every yen. 
Sakura at Tenryu-ji
Sakura viewing: Tenryū-ji

Quince at Tenryu-ji
Quince in bloom at Tenryū-ji

Tōfuku-ji (Eastern Good Luck Temple), located in southeastern Kyoto, is famous for its valley of red maples and its moss and stone checkerboard. I've previously written about Tōfuku-ji's moss garden.
Valley of red maples at Tofuku-ji
Momiji viewing: The valley of maples, Tōfuku-ji
Moss and rock garden at Tofuku-ji
Moss and rock garden, Tōfuku-ji
Tofuku-ji Hojo garden
The Southern Garden at Tōfuku-ji's Hojo
The four rock-composites in Tōfuku-ji's Hojo (Abbot Hall) rock garden represent the Elysian islands. Moss covered mounds represent five sacred mountains.

Moss and stone checkerboard at Tofuku-ji
A bit of the moss and stone checkerboard at Tōfuku-ji

Ryōan-ji (the Temple of the Dragon at Peace), located in northwestern Kyoto, is famous for its rock garden. Yet it contains expanses of moss as well. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, two gardeners worked diligently with their small straw brooms near the entrance to the temple grounds, removing fallen maple leaves from the moss carpet.

Buddha at Ryoan-ji
Buddha at Ryōan-ji
At Ryōan-ji camellias and quince are just beginning to blossom. The Japanese irises that grow along the edge of Kyoyochi Pond won't bloom until months from now. Flowers aren't the big draw to the gardens at this time of year - the trees are. Many of the maples have yet to lose the last of their leaves. 

Winter will be here officially in just a few short days. This season is an ideal time to appreciate evergreens and to observe the previously hidden structures of deciduous trees. At Ryōan-ji quite a few trees sport braces to support and shape trunks and limbs. 
Kyoyochi pond at Ryoan-ji
Kyoyochi pond at Ryōan-ji
Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant) at Ryoan-ji
Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant) at Ryōan-ji 
The dry landscape of Ryōan-ji consists of white gravel and fifteen rocks and is believed to have been created by a Zen monk, around 1500 AD, at the end of the Muromachi period. The wall that separates this rock garden from the landscape garden is made of clay once boiled in oil. Subsequent seepage resulted in the creation of patterns along the old wall.
Ryoan-ji's dry landscape rock garden
A corner of Ryōan-ji's dry landscape or rock garden
Tree brace at Ryoan-ji
A tree brace at Ryōan-ji
Stone washbasins at Ryoan-ji
The inscription on this stone washbasin at Ryōan-ji: I learn only to be contented.
Both Tenryū-ji and Ryōan-ji have restaurants on the premises. Reservations are recommended for Tenryū-ji, where Zen cuisine is served. 
Restaurant at Ryoan-ji
Ryōan-ji's restaurant overlooks the garden

Bridge over the pond at Ryoan-ji
Bridge over the pond at Ryōan-ji

Thank you for visiting. Your comments are welcome.

Links to the individual temple websites:

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