Category Archives: Gardens

Deep Nara #3 – The Rose Garden at Ryōsen-ji

Just outside Nara City proper is the temple of Ryōsen-ji. Founded in the 8th century by Indian monk Bodhisena, this temple has a long history and many cultural treasures. But I’m not going to write about those today. Today I’m going to show you the rose garden.

IMG_7356 (Medium)

This rose garden was made in 1957, as a living prayer for world peace.

IMG_7338b

IMG_7357

IMG_7372 (Medium)

There are over 200 blooms to view here. Many of them also have a heady scent.

IMG_7286 IMG_7291 IMG_7297 (Medium)
We spent a pleasant time here, savoring the many fragrances and the varied velvet blooms.

IMG_7365 (Medium) IMG_7310 (Medium) IMG_7301 IMG_7307
I love roses. And I loved this garden.

IMG_7285 IMG_7368 (Medium) IMG_7355 IMG_7319b

There is also a cafe at one end of the garden where you can try some rose flavored tea or coffee.

IMG_7376 (Medium)

I asked for cream with my coffee, but the good lady instructed me that it would detract too much from that unique rosey taste. A drop of cream would have been a mercy though. That coffee was nasty.

A bitter cup indeed.

A bitter cup indeed.

The roses are at their best in the spring (from mid-May to mid-June) and autumn (from mid-October to early November).

IMG_7381
To get to Ryōsen-ji take the Kintetsu Nara line from Nara station and get off at Tomio (富雄). From there you will have to take a bus or taxi. Here is a MAP.

I will post more pictures from the temple itself at a later date…

IMG_7379 (Medium)
See also: Deep Nara #1 – Kojiki Exhibition
Deep Nara #2 – Cafe & Restaurant Bambuno

Cherry Blossom at Yoshiminedera

IMG_5637 (Medium)
About a week ago, when the sakura was still blooming, we visited Yoshiminedera (善峯寺). This is a mountain temple to the west of Kyoto, and because it is a mountain temple, the air is cooler and the sakura blooms a little later than in the city.

IMG_5642 (Medium)This is the sanmon entrance. It’s huge. Here you pay your 500 yen entry fee. It’s totally worth it.
IMG_5648 (Medium)Beyond the entrance are some steps leading up to the main hall.
IMG_5649 (Medium)There’s something very special about the atmosphere at Yoshimine Temple, something that I can’t really put into words, but I felt it most keenly when I entered the main hall above. I am not religious, but I definitely felt something spiritual there, a very deep sense of peace and calm. This is not something I have felt in many other temples, but I remember feeling something similar in the air when visiting Mount Koya a couple of years ago… Also the Buddhist art and statuary here, in particular the representations of the Kannon-sama, the spirit of Mercy, struck me as particularly beautiful.
IMG_5655 (Medium)
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the main hall (which is a good thing really), so my pictures of the temple grounds will have to suffice. Neither words nor pictures though, can convey how lovely a spot this is. I really enjoyed our visit here.

IMG_5770 (Medium)Yoshiminedera is also famous for the Yūryu no matsu (遊龍の松) or “Playful Dragon Pine”. This 600 year old tree has been trained to grow horizontally and extends for 37 meters…
IMG_5774 (Medium)At one end of it is a massive weeping cherry tree, and that too is stunning to behold.
IMG_5782 (Medium)This cherry tree actually grows out of a maple tree which you can see in the next picture.
IMG_5784 (Medium)Beside these trees is a fan shaped stone with a poem that reads:

春は花
秋はもみじの
むすび木は
この世のしやわせ
めでたかりけり

in spring, blossom
in fall, coloured maple
these entwined trees
would celebrate
this world’s joy!

IMG_5783 (Medium)IMG_5669 (Medium)
Be prepared to have your breath taken away when you turn this next corner.

IMG_5656 (Medium)From here on, our path was graced with compassionate clouds of cherry blossom and heavenly views. Enjoy the pictures, and if you would like to visit this temple yourself someday, check the travel information at the end of this post.
IMG_5678 (Medium) IMG_5683 (Medium) IMG_5685 (Medium)IMG_5694 (Medium) IMG_5687 (Medium) IMG_5702 (Medium) IMG_5703 (Medium) IMG_5711 (Medium) IMG_5714 (Medium) IMG_5726 (Medium) IMG_5749 (Medium) IMG_5756 (Medium) IMG_5758 (Medium) IMG_5777 (Medium)
Getting there: To get to Yoshimindera we first took the JR line from Kyoto station to Mukōmachi (向日町) and then took a bus. The bus takes twenty minutes and costs 350 yen. You can also take the Hankyu line to nearby Higashi Mukō and catch the bus from there, but I would recommend Mukōmachi. Because it’s the first stop you have a better chance of getting a seat for that twenty minute journey!  Buses depart for  Yoshiminedera at 35 minutes past the hour from Mukōmachi and at 42 minutes past the hour from Higashi Mukō. Be sure to time your train journey (you can check the schedule on Jorudan), so that you don’t have to wait an hour for the next bus! Also, the last bus back is at 15.24, so be sure to go early enough. There’s a lot to see in the grounds of Yoshimine Temple, so you will need at least a couple of hours there to fully enjoy it. The temple itself is open from 8:00~17:00, so you could always get a taxi back if you wanted to stay later, but that would probably cost you a couple of thousand yen.

IMG_5737 (Medium)
See also:
Cherry Blossoms at Hirano Shrine
Cherry Blossoms at Heian Jingu

Hydrangeas at Mimurotoji Temple

IMG_3809 (Medium)

Here are some pictures from Mimurotoji Temple, in Uji which we visited last weekend. We were both very impressed with the expansive and very lovely gardens here. And the hydrangeas in all their many splendoured colours and varieties were amazing. These flowers are on display until July 15th (Monday) so there is still time to see them and the opening hours are 8:30 – 16.30. There were a lot of people there last Sunday but it didn’t feel crowded at all.

IMG_3776 (Medium)

IMG_3838 (Medium)

How to get there:
We took the Keihan line from Shichijo, changed at Chushojima to the Keihan Uji line and got off at Mimurodo station. From there it is a 15 minute walk due east. You could also take Bus 43 from the JR or Keihan Uji Stations, to Mimurotoji Temple. The bus fare from JR Uji Station to Mimurotoji Temple is 220 yen. Here is a map.IMG_3848 (Medium)

Here are some close-ups on those hydrangeas (the Japanese name “ajisai” is so much prettier I think).

And here are some more pictures from around the temple grounds:

IMG_3801 (Medium)

The Stone Garden at Ryoanji

The vacant space of the garden, like silence, absorbs the mind, frees it of petty detail, and serves as a visual guide -a means for penetrating through the “realm of the multitudes.”
-from “Stone Garden” by Will Petersen.

My friend Chris Carver, recently lent me a copy of Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and fairly early on in the book I found something, or rather someone, of interest. Kerouac’s alter ego, Ray Smith, is hanging out at his buddy Japhy Ryder’s house when this someone walks in…

…Rol Sturlason, a tall blond goodlooking kid, came in to discuss his coming trip to Japan… This Rol Sturlason was interested in the famous Ryoanji rock garden of Shokokuji monastery in Kyoto, which is nothing but old boulders placed in such a way, supposedly mystical aesthetic, as to cause thousands of tourists and monks every year to journey  there to stare at the boulders in the sand and thereby gain peace of mind. I have never met such weird yet serious and earnest people. I never saw Rol Sturlason again, he went to Japan soon after, but I can’t forget what he said about the boulders, to my question, “Well who placed them in that certain way that’s so great?”

"The rocks are not so much forms placed on the surface from above as bumps pushing up from below -pushing into space." - from "Stone Garden" by Will Petersen.

“Nobody knows, some monk, or monks, long ago. But there is a definite mysterious form in the arrangement of the rocks. It’s only through form that we can realize emptiness.” He showed me the picture of the boulders in well-raked sand, looking like islands in the sea, looking as though they had eyes (declivities) and surrounded by a neatly screened and architectural monastery patio. then he showed me a diagram of the stone arrangement with the projection in silhouette and showed me the geometrical logics and all, and mentioned the phrases “lonely individuality” and the rocks as “bumps pushing into space,” all meaning some kind of koan business I wasn’t as much interested in as in him…
– from “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac

I was curious about this character of Rol Sturlason. Who was he and what became of him, I wondered. A quick search and I found that Jack Kerouac based the character of Rol Sturlason on Will Petersen, an artist and poet associated with the Beat Generation, who lived in Kyoto for eight years. There he followed his passions in art, printmaking and Noh drama. In 1957 he published a famous essay on the garden at Ryoanji named “Stone Garden”  in the Evergreen Review. It makes for quite an interesting read, especially if you are familiar with Rol’s brief appearance in The Dharma Bums. It even includes the very diagram that Rol showed Ray Smith in the passage above.

"Diagram of stone arrangement with projection in silhouette" from Will Petersen's 1957 essay "Stone Garden"

Petersen sees the stone garden as a endlessly fascinating puzzle; “a visual koan“. He points out that because of the walls that enclose it on three sides, the garden can only be viewed from a single vantage point. This focus, he says, “suggests the garden’s purpose as an object of contemplation” but we are not encouraged to study the transitory nature of life here, for there are no “blossoms to fade and no leaves to wither and fall”. Instead its simplicity: “fifteen rocks -of various sizes and shapes… on a flat rectangular area of raked white sand”, guides our mind into a purer meditation on the abstract relationship between emptiness and form. “The garden,” he says, “like all things is not unchanging. But what significant changes do occur, occur not within the garden, but in the mind of the viewer and in his perception of the garden.”

Ultimately the garden must be viewed as art, and viewed in silence. As a silent sermon it raises many questions, but asks for no answers. It calls to mind the flower held before his disciples by the silent Buddha, which brought forth no classification, description, analysis or discussion, but only the comprehending smile of the clear-seeing.
-from “Stone Garden” by Will Petersen.

I have given you just a taste of Petersen’s essay here, and in these pictures I have only given you a hint of what the garden at Ryoanji has to offer (remember there are fifteen rocks). If you find your interest has been piqued, then you should both read the full article and view the garden for yourself. “Stone Garden” was published in the Evergreen Review Vol. 4 in 1957. This issue is available as a downloadable pdf here for a humble $2.95. Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums is available from amazon.co.jpamazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Ryoanji is situated in the north-west of the city near to Kinkakuji. There is an access map on the Ryoanji website. Check the city bus travel map for the buses that go out there, or splash out on a taxi. You could also go by bicycle if you have enough energy. It’s uphill all the way but an excellent workout!

See also: Autumn Colours at Kinkakuji & Ryoanji

Plum Blossom at the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park

It was pretty chilly out yesterday morning and more than a few flakes of snow were falling, but worth it all the same. A small gaggle of photographers agreed with me too, clustering round the 梅 trees in the Imperial Palace Park in a thicket of tripods… Here are my pictures…

Autumn Colours at Kinkakuji & Ryoanji

Mewby at Kinkakuji

Yesterday Mewby and I braved the autumn weather to see the autumn leaves at Kinkakuji and Ryoanji. The Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji and the rock garden at Ryoanji are two of Kyoto’s most iconic sites and worth a visit any time of year. Right now though the autumn leaves make it just magical!

At Kinkakuji

Ryoanji’s gorgeous gardens are a twenty minute stroll away from Kinkakuji if you don’t want to take a bus. On the way there are a large number of shops selling nishin (herring) soba noodles. It’s not to everyone’s taste but for myself I can’t resist a hot bowl of nishin soba after a visit to Kinkakuji. Here are the gardens at Ryoanji.

You can see more pictures like this on my personal blog here. Situated in the north-west of the city, Kinkakuji and Ryoanji are happily pretty close together so you can check them both out in one afternoon pretty easily. Check the city bus travel map for the buses that go out there. Buses do take time so we got a taxi up there (around 1500 yen from Oike) and then bus 59 back to Sanjo Keihan (220 yen). You could also go by bicycle if you have enough energy. Do remember though, you’ll be going uphill all the way there!

Related: Autumn leaves so beautiful they will make you cry!