Category Archives: Temples

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: It seemed like a timely discovery. Continue reading

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


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 (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 and

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

“Kyoto Uta Kiko” (Song Travels in Kyoto) — Rokuhara-mita Temple

Here’s this month’s poetry contribution from Keiji Minato:

枇杷の咲く路地抜け右へ折れましてまっすぐ行けば六波羅蜜寺    坪内稔典
Biwa no saku Roji nuke Migi e oremashite Massugu ikeba Rokuhara-mita-ji

Passing through an alley
where you see loquat blossoms
and taking a right turn
and then going straight gets you
to Rokuhara-mita Temple

京都うた紀行』 (Kyoto Uta Kiko ~ Poetic Travelogues in Kyoto) (2010) by NAGATA Kazuhiro and KAWANO Yuko has a subtitle: 近現代の歌枕を訪ねて(Visiting Modern and Contemporary Utamakura). The term “utamakura” (歌枕) is usually used for old Japanese traditional poetic forms, and means the name of a place which is used in great literary works many times and has come to have special connotations associated with it. In the book, Nagata and Kawano, both great tanka writers, take up modern/contemporary tanka with the names of places in Kyoto to renew this rhetorical tradition for the 21st century.
The poem I quoted in the beginning is a tanka by Tsubouchi Toshinori (He is one of today’s most popular haiku writers but also writes tanka like this one, longer poems, and great essays). It might sound like it is just giving directions to the temple in English; and actually, it does so too in Japanese! In Japanese traditional poetic forms it sometimes happens that describing an extremely ordinary thing with no affectations gives a poem lightness in a poetical sense, which makes the reader irresistibly smile. You can say that the one above has comical haiku qualities, as Kawano says in her short essay with it.
Rokuhara-mita Temple (六波羅蜜寺) is in the Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto City and famous for its statue of Saint Kuya (空也上人). The statue is really unique: From Saint Kuya’s opened mouth several little Buddhas are flying out! (Every Japanese pupil sees a picture of it in their history textbook; of course, they love it!). Kuya in his life walked around Japan, preaching and chanting 南無阿弥陀仏(Nam-amida-butsu). So, the thumb-sized bodies coming out of his mouth are Amitabha Buddhas.

Statue of Kuya at Rokuhara-mita Temple

Kawano notes the temple was built on the border of Kyoto City in Kuya’s time, and to the west of it were hills generally called Toribe-no (鳥辺野), where people took the dead for cremation. Saint Kuya built Rokuhara-mita Temple to pray for them. Knowing this you might sense religious feelings even behind the matter-of-fact description of Tsubouchi’s poem.
Kawano adds her own tanka after the essay, which shows the historical connotation of the place more clearly:

風花のこの道を空也も歩きしと土は記憶せり六波羅蜜寺へ   河野裕子

The earth remembers
Saint Kuya too
walked on this road
with snowflakes in spring
to Rokuhara-mita Temple


This text and translations by Keiji Minato. Keiji writes a guest blog for Deep Kyoto once a month introducing Kyoto’s poets and poetry. You can find former articles by Keiji Minato here.

Here is a map to Rokuhara-mita Temple. It lies just east of Yamato-Ooji St., between Gojo St. to the south and Matsubara St. to the north.

Of Related Interest:
Cities of Green Leaves 青葉の都市 – Ginko no Kukai
The HojokiVisions of a Torn World
Irish Haiku!
One Hundred Poets on Mount Ogura, One Poem Each
Introducing Keiji Minato
Songs and Stories of the Kojiki retold by Yoko Danno
Japan International Poetry Society

Kōbō-san – The Toji Temple Flea Market

Last Saturday Lucinda Cowing and I went to the flea market at Toji Temple to hand out flyers for our Bring & Buy charity sale on the 28th. The market at Toji takes place monthly on the 21st and is always very popular, but as it fell on a Saturday this month and as the weather was fine there were a LOT of people there and we could give out a lot of flyers. Here’s Lucinda in action.

I parked myself at the gate next to these two ladies: Naruse-san and Fujisawa-san. They had come from Shiga to collect money for 止揚学園 (shiyougakuen), an organization that helps people with severe disabilities both here and abroad. I got talking to Naruse-san whilst handing out flyers and she was kind enough to help me hand out flyers by giving them to people who made a donation for her cause. Thank you Naruse-san!

After a couple of hours I went for a stroll around the market and soaked up the lively atmosphere. It really is a unique event and well worth experiencing. Here among the historic buildings and bustling crowds you can get a true feel for what makes Kyoto tick. Continue reading

Happy New Year!


Best wishes for a rabbity 2011 to you all! On New Year’s Eve, Mewby and I took the advice of John Dougill and visited the Kurodani temple complex to ring out the old and then on to Shimogamo shrine for hatusmode (the first shrine visit of the year). I really have to thank John for suggesting that itinerary. It had been snowing quite heavily on the 31st so Kurodani in particular  was really beautiful; all dressed up in white like a fairytale. My pictures hardly do it justice as it really was quite lovely.

A big thank you also to the chap at the bell in Kurodani. We joined the line to ring it and only when we got to the end of the line did we realise we needed a ticket. “Oh, never mind,” he said kindly as the last seconds of 2010 ticked away, “Go ahead and ring it.” So we did.

Here are some more pictures from Shimogamo jinja in the early hours of the New Year. This shrine is so old it predates Kyoto itself!

We took a taxi up to Kurodani and after spending several hours wandering round there and at Shimogamo we took a taxi back into town and had a drink with my buddies at Alphabet Ave. Weirdly the taxi driver we hailed was the same guy each time! Strange things happen in the time between times though. Here’s hoping for many more magical surprises in the year to come!

A Kyoto New Year

This will be the last post for the year as I am going home to the UK for Christmas and will be offline for an ENTIRE WEEK! Before I hand you over to John Dougill for the final word, let me wish you all a very merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year. And for those who can’t bear to be without Deep Kyoto for a whole week, I have posted a list of categorised 2010 highlights here (click it! go on click it!) for your browsing pleasure. Now, over to John!

Kurodani by Sarah Brayer

John Dougill writes…

The true soul of Japan is neither Shinto nor Buddhist.  It’s Shinto-Buddhist.  Until the artificial split of early Meiji times, the country had more than 1000 years of happy syncretism.  Born Shinto, die Buddhist is the Japanese way.
Shinto is this-worldly, concerned with rites of passage and social well-being.  Buddhism is other-worldly, concerned with individual salvation.  At New Year the two religions come together like yin and yang, either side of midnight.  Buddhism sees out the death of the old; Shinto celebrates the birth of the new.  Joya-no-kane (tolling of the bell) gives way to Hatsumode (first visit of the year).
To get the full feel of a Kyoto New Year, you need to be syncretic too.  In the dying minutes of the year, go hear the bell at a Buddhist temple.  By tradition it is rung 108 times once for every attachment that plagues the human condition.  Then head for a shrine to pick up arrow and amulets for protection through the coming year.
With over 3000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, you’re spoilt for choice.  A popular but crowded combination is Chion-in and Yasaka Jinja.  File up the hill to watch the young priests at the temple acrobatically swing on ropes to ring the bell.  Then head down to the shrine to get twisted bamboo lit with the sacred Okera fire.  It will purify your home.
Personally I prefer the open space of Kurodani, where the bell booms soulfully over the nearby hillside.  Open fires give off a warm glow, which you can add to with heated sake before lining up to ring the bell.  Afterwards a twenty-minute walk leads through dark and dozing streets to the wooded surrounds of Shimogamo Jinja.
Suddenly there are laughing voices, bright kimono, and gaudy lights.  Aspiring yakuza sell candy floss and goldfish.  Here all is jollity and smiles.  ‘Akemashite gozaimasu’ rings out on every side.  At the shrine people toss coins over the heads of those in front into the offertory boxes.  With the blessing of the kami, this too will be a happy New Year.  A happy Kyoto New Year!

John Dougill is the author of Kyoto: A Cultural History.  He is currently working on a book about Hidden Christians. You can read his previous articles for Deep Kyoto here. John will write again in a few days with some top tips for New Year’s Eve!

See also:

A Kyoto Christmas by John Dougill
Christmas Carols at Kyoto City Hall
Christmas at Tadg’s