Category Archives: Temples

Not Sure Which Way to Go – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Robert Yellin

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, Robert Yellin encourages us to seek chance and adventure along the Path of Philosophy…

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Photograph by Robert Yellin

Not Sure Which Way to Go
Let’s Get Lost on the Philosopher’s Path!
ROBERT YELLIN

One autumn twilight moment I was standing on a small bridge overlooking the Philosopher’s Path’s canal and saw a young couple staring at a map, eyes flittering over the horizon and at each other, each looking to the other for direction, it obvious that neither knew where they were, except that they were on the Path of Philosophy! The guy trying to act like he knew what to do said, “That’s the direction we should go, no wait, let’s head that way!” The girl, in all her feminine wisdom replied, ‘Let’s get lost!” Yes, I thought, that’s what one should do on Philosopher’s Path, get lost and discover.

The Philosopher’s Path or Tetsugaku no Michi in Japanese, stirs up such grandeur in its lofty name that one might even expect to be enlightened somewhere along the way. Some may hit that satori state along the path, as when Ikkyu in 1420 heard a crow not far off the path and got it! And that’s the beauty of this fabled Kyoto walk. It’s not only what one discovers on the paved canal-lined stretch; it’s what one encounters when they step off the guided way. After all a path is a great metaphor for life itself, getting lost often brings the greatest discoveries within and without. Getting lost—and finding oneself—on the Philosopher’s Path: what a grand way to spend a day in Kyoto.

Michi (also read as ) means not only path or road, but also means ‘The Way’ in Japanese. It is not only an integral part of the essence of the Philosopher’s Path or The Path of Philosophy, but can also be found in many names of Japan’s great martial and cultural arts, such as Budo or Chado. Each person’s ‘michi’ will never be the same as anyone else’s and again is a great metaphor for each step taken along this most quaint stroll.

Where to take the first step? Most start from the ‘Tetsugaku no Michi’ signboard that hugs the corner of Imadegawa and Shirakawa streets diagonally across the way from the signboard with the dancing Octopus. Walking east along this entrance one can see Daimonji in the distance with its trapezoidal deforested area where cut lines can be sensed; those lines form the kanji character for Dai—or Large—and a huge bonfire is set alit each August 16th in that form to guide souls back to the otherworld. A fitting view for the first few steps on the path as Daimonji has seen millions of tourists and pilgrims start from the same spot and the mountain never knows where each unique journey on the path will end.

For me I start the path with maybe one or two spots on my list to visit and then let intuition take over. Of course, walking straight along Imadegawa and heading towards the Silver Pavilion one will pass many shops such as a cheap, delicious Japanese eatery next to a coffee shop with a big Teddy bear that has been sitting at the counter since the 60’s; a Michelin-starred restaurant; an open-air Italian spread; the estate and museum of the famed Nihonga painter Hashimoto Kansetsu (1883–1945); and of course countless vendors selling traditional Kyoto staples. The Silver Pavilion is of course a must visit and best at opening or before closing, if those times are possible. Here, so much of Japanese culture crystallized in the 15th century in what is known as the Higashiyama Bunka or Eastern Mountain Culture. Based on the illusive aesthetic ideals of wabi-sabi, Higashiyama Bunka under the guidance of the Silver Pavilion’s retired Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa directed new developments for such famed Japanese arts such as the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, Noh Drama and Calligraphy. Living itself changed for the elite with the introduction of the ‘Japanese room’ or washitsu.

Bordering the mountains and in Yoshimasa’s time quite inaccessible from the city, the location was chosen for the quiet contemplation of life, nature and man’s fleeting position between the two; surely Yoshimasa would approve that one major stop on the Philosopher’s Path is his subdued ‘palace’ surrounded by his moon-viewing sand cone (resembling Mt.Fuji) and his exquisite garden. Get lost in time.

A noticeable shift in the air occurs a few minutes’ walk from the Silver Pavilion, passing by rows of ordinary homes (not on the Philosopher’s Path, part of the Getting Lost Path) heading south when the trees of Hōnen-in Temple appear. It strikes the senses immediately, the crispness of the air and the ionic air change in energy, the smell, the tingle. There are magical spots all around Kyoto, many to be found along and nearby the Philosopher’s Path, yet none is as serene as Hōnen-in. It’s one of Kyoto’s hidden gems.

Hōnen (1133-1212) was an extremely important Buddhist figure and the temple bears his name. Once, I stood enraptured for many minutes before a hanging scroll depicting Hōnen; a simple portrait it was, yet never before have I seen a face so full of compassion, light, and sheer contentment. That same energy fills the space of Hōnen-in. Walk up the stone steps from sunlit lightness into a moody shaded grove and in the distance is The Gate. Beaming from its open wooden doors is a radiant light that is heavenly. The stone path leading to the thatched gate is uneven, for a reason. You’ll figure it out.

A gate is always another metaphor in Japan, passing from one world to the next, from the mundane daily existence to a silky world of divinity and beauty. There are always two long rectangular sand mounds upon descending the other side of the Hōnen gate where a theme of water is always seen. These are called Byakusadan. The message from Byakusadan is that you walk between the two mounds in order to ‘use’ the water to cleanse your body, mind and spirit. Next, wander about the very small compound and you might even find a small block that says, ‘Listen, Think, Accept, Practice, Believe’—but not necessarily in that order. I believed once that if I left my new bicycle unlocked at Hōnen-in in the height of the autumn tourist season that it would still be there when I returned. It was.

Picture 5 Honen-in by Robert Yellin (Medium)

Hōnen-in by Robert Yellin

Hōnen-in is not a tourist place to see things per se, but a space to feel, to sense the magic of shadows and light, man entwined with nature, the ‘now’ connected to all time. My brother visited once and was amazed at the ‘quality of the silence’ and noted that silence is not simply the absence of noise. There’s a vibration to silence that one can sense. Maybe it’s the spirit of Hōnen himself.

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Text and photographs by Robert Yellin. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Robert Yellin
Robert YellinRobert Yellin is an American Japanese ceramics specialist who has resided in Japan since 1984. He writes regularly on Japanese ceramics in numerous publications. For ten years he wrote the “Ceramic Scene” column for the Japan Times, the largest English newspaper in Japan. His articles have also appeared in Daruma magazine, WINDS magazine, Ceramics Art & Perception, and Asian Art Newspaper. Robert is the author of Yakimono Sanka published by Kogei Shuppan, a book about sake utensils which was later translated into English under the title Ode to Pottery, Sake Cups and Flasks. He is a member of the Japan Ceramics Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai) and his articles have appeared in its monthly publication Tohsetsu.
Robert owns and runs Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto in addition to an informational website: www.e-yakimono.net, and an online Japanese ceramic art gallery: www.japanesepottery.com. Robert is available to give lectures and lead tours dealing with Japanese ceramics.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto: Walks

14.Corrugated Politicians

Corrugated Politicians

Today I am posting a short excerpt from our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks. In Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours, Bridget Scott meditates on her personal connection to her neighborhood on a well-worn stroll from Shisen-dō to Manshu-in…

In Kyoto, the act of walking itself has taken on a new meaning for me. This awareness began over twenty years ago with my first butoh class: feel your feet moving on the earth, I was told. In my shiatsu training I began connecting my whole body to the earth through my feet. In my traditional Japanese dance training, I step with each breath guided by my departed teacher’s taped voice. In the main hall at Shisendo, in our zazen group, we walk after sitting for forty minutes, as we inhale and exhale. Continue reading

Ted Taylor on the Trail of Toyotomi Hideyoshi: A Deep Kyoto Walk through History

Ted Taylor wrote a piece for The Japan Times at the end of March that illustrates quite nicely why I asked him to be my coeditor on the Deep Kyoto: Walks anthology. As regular readers of his blog Notes from the ‘Nog will attest, Ted knows very well how to write about walking. In this article, Under the Beat of the Taiko, Ted walks about and discusses various sites around Kyoto associated with Japan’s second great unifier, the daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

It is worth noting however, that this walk, written specifically for the Japan Times Travel section and focused as it is very much on Kyoto’s past, is very different in style and content from the content of our book. In Deep Kyoto: Walks our writers were encouraged to focus more on the present moment and the web of associations that a wander down familiar paths gives rise to. Each piece in our anthology is a meditative testament to life lived in Kyoto and maps out those places where the greater story of the city and our personal histories intersect. The following excerpt from Ted’s article though, is still a striking reminder of how much a part Kyoto has played in Japan’s greater history and how much of that history remains to be explored in this our modern city.

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Mimizuka:  a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy... (Photo by Ted Taylor)

Mimizuka: a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy… (Photo by Ted Taylor)

From Under the Beat of the Taiko
…the majority of sites related to Hideyoshi lie across town, not far away from the Kyoto National Museum. I started in fact from that very building, tracing a short counter-clockwise arc on a sunny but cold winter’s morning. I quickly head east, crossing the broad Higashi-oji and cutting through the grounds of Chisahaku-in. This temple offers one of my favorite tofu lunches, but it is still early. Beyond the temple is Shin Hiyoshi Jingu.

Today, the grounds of the shrine are somewhat hemmed in, but the layout hints at a grander scale in the past. I find a monkey statue, a reminder of Hideyoshi’s nickname when he was still a low-ranking soldier. There is also a photograph of an early Meiji Period cannon that had presumably been used in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). The limited signage doesn’t mention where the cannon itself is today, but it’s likely to have been melted down during World War II a half century later. Acorns litter the base where it once stood.

I pass Kyoto Women’s University and its accompanying cafes. On one corner is a beautiful Meiji-era building that is a nod to the antebellum American South and is apparently the University’s Founders Hall. A set of steps takes me above it, onto a vast open space of trees and stone. Off to one side is a large paved section where the Princess Line parks its red buses. It’s a point not entirely incongruous as Hideyoshi once had the audacity to demand that the Ming Emperor marry a daughter to the Japanese monarch, a demand that was naturally ignored.

There’s a steep flight of steps before me, leading up Amida-ga-mine. I begin to climb up the not insignificant number of stairs — 522, I later find. Atop the mount is Hideyoshi’s mausoleum. After his death in August 1598, he was buried here, within a massive shrine complex. A massive annual festival was once held here around the date of his death but after the victory of the Tokugawa over Hideyoshi’s son in 1615, the shrine was destroyed and the number of mourners quickly diminished.

Today, too, I find myself alone. There is a small pagoda, built in 1898 to mark the 300th year of his passing. It is of simple grey concrete, far from the gaudy glitz that the man himself was known to appreciate. Instead, the simplicity of the monument, along with the bare trees and the accompanying cold wind, is a reminder of the poverty into which the man had been born.

I circumambulate this plain stone edifice. If you squint through the trees to the north, you might be able to make out the sightseers standing on the famed deck of Kiyomizu-dera. Behind the mausoleum are a series of trails running in a number of directions.

However, I return the way I came, in the direction of Hoko-ji Temple. Just to the east is a small park with a handful of structures and a great deal of cracked tile. It was here that Hideyoshi built his massive Buddha to rival that of Nara. Eighteen meters high, the Buddha’s fortunes lasted longer than that of the Toyotomi family, though these fortunes could hardly be called good.

Repeatedly destroyed by fire and earthquake, the Buddha would be rebuilt again, in a near parody of that ancient Zen proverb: “Fall seven times and stand up eight.” However, the great statue fell for good in 1973, destroyed by fire. (This finality is so seemingly complete for I can’t even find a photo on the Internet, despite the recent date of demise.)

The temple itself is pretty small and nondescript. The shinbutsu bunri, or separation of Buddhism from Shinto in the opening days of the Meiji Period, allowed the grounds of neighboring Toyotomi Shrine to envelop what had once belonged to the temple. The only truly interesting feature is an old bell, which was cast in 1614. As Richard A.B. Ponsonby-Fane wrote in his 1956 masterpiece, “Kyoto: the Old Capital of Japan”:

“[T]he tablet over the Daibatsu-den and the bell bore the inscription ‘Kokka ankō’ (meaning ‘the country and the house, peace and tranquility’), and at this Tokugawa Ieyasu affected to take umbrage, alleging that it was intended as a curse on him for the character 安 (an, ‘peace’) was placed between the two characters composing his own name 家康 (ka-kō, ‘house tranquility’) [suggesting subtly perhaps that peace could only be attained by Ieyasu's dismemberment?]“

This perceived slight gave Ieyasu yet another pretext for which to dismember the Toyotomi clan itself.

The neighboring shrine, Toyokuni Jinja, was built in 1599 and dedicated to Hideyoshi. This honor was, of course, revoked under the Tokugawa, but once again renewed by the Meiji Emperor himself. The Karamon, an ornately carved gate that has been designated a national treasure, unfortunately flanks a built-up ground that seems to function solely as a parking lot. I find no real reason to linger.

Around the corner is one final site that is more a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy. Beneath the gently sloping grass hill of Mimizuka are the severed noses of allegedly 38,000 Korean soldiers and civilians killed during Hideyoshi’s ill-advised invasions of Korea (1592-98). Remuneration was usually paid to warriors according to the number of heads taken in battle, but as this campaign took place such a long distance away, noses seemed a fair substitute. Dedicated in 1597, it is most telling that the information written on the plaque is in Japanese and Korean. The mound is unknown to most Japanese, but Korean tour buses can be frequently seen nearby.

As I walk back toward the subway, I wonder at the thoughts of the locals, living in modest suburban houses around the Mimizuka site. However, as these modern homes themselves attest, despite the rich legacy of this city, most Kyoto-ites don’t really seem to live much in harmony with the past anymore, and seem content to instead give it a curt nod as they move forward with their lives.

Read the full article here.

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By some uncanny chance the Hailstone Haiku Circle‘s most recent composition stroll also took in the mausoleum of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and you can read about that here. The Deep Kyoto: Walks connection? Hailstone participants Stephen Gill and John Dougill are both contributors to our book! From this posting though, it is the following haiku by Branko Manojlovic, that I find most poignant:

Hideyoshi’s tomb –
Nobody sweeps here
But the April wind

More about the writers of Deep Kyoto: Walks to be revealed soon!
See also:
Judith Clancy in “Deep Kyoto: Walks” ~ An Exclusive Extract
Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Meet the Artists
Coming very soon, the first publication from Deep Kyoto

Cherry Blossom at Yoshiminedera

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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.
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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!

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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.
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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.

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See also:
Cherry Blossoms at Hirano Shrine
Cherry Blossoms at Heian Jingu

The Ryōzen Kannon, Kyoto, 1958

…suppose there are immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of living beings who are undergoing various trials and suffering. If they hear of this Bodhisattva Perceiver of the Word’s Sounds and single-mindedly call his name, then at once he will perceive the sound of their voices and they will all gain deliverance from their trials. If someone, holding fast to the name of bodhisattva perceiver of the world’s sounds, should enter a great fire, the fire could not burn him. This would come about because of this bodhisattva’s authority and supernatural power. If one were washed away by a great flood and call upon his name, one would immediately find himself in a shallow place… – from the Lotus Sutra Chapter 25 translated by Burton Watson

Buddhist goddess of Mercy Statue in Kyoto, Japan on May 11, 1958, after the unveiling of a memorial to Allied dead of World War II on June 8.

“Some 50 colorfully-garbed Buddhist monks march from the Buddhist goddess of Mercy Statue in Kyoto, Japan on May 11, 1958, after the unveiling of a memorial to Allied dead of World War II on June 8. A white marble tablet, honoring more than 48,000 soldiers who died fighting against Japan, was uncovered in base of the 80-foot-high statue. The Buddha is dedicated to the more than one million Japanese who perished in the war.” (AP Photo)

I found the picture above in a collection of fascinating photographs showing life in 1950s Japan at The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/03/japan-in-the-1950s/100697/ It seemed like a timely discovery. Continue reading

Hanezu Odori – Dance performance at Kyoto’s Zuishin-in Temple

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From the Japan Times,

Girls in pale pink traditional costumes will dance and sing in a “Hanezu Odori” performance at Zuishin-in Temple in Kyoto on March 30.

The performance will be held three or four times during the day. The temple is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, and admission will be ¥1,000.

The temple is a five-minute walk from Ono Station on the Tozai Line.

For more info please, visit kanko.city.kyoto.lg (in Japanese) or 075-571-0025075-571-0025.

See also: Zuishin-in ~ A Refuge in Ono

Zuishin-in ~ A Refuge in Ono

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As I posted a piece on the autumn leaves at Daigo-ji last week, I thought I might post some pictures I took earlier this year at the nearby Zuishin-in. These pictures were taken in June; the season for irises and azaleas. I think this temple would be good to visit in any season though. It has a very special atmosphere. You can see a slideshow of the gardens through the seasons here. Apparently the red maples in autumn and the plum gardens in spring are quite special. Continue reading

Illuminated Autumn Leaves at Daigo-ji Temple

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The ancient temple of Daigo-ji in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto, is currently opening at night to show off it’s illuminated autumn colours. Though the leaves hadn’t quite reached their peak when we visited at the weekend, they weren’t far off and we were glad to get there before it got too crowded.  Here are some pictures from our visit. Continue reading

Hydrangeas at Mimurotoji Temple

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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.

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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:

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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