By pure chance today I had a little errand to run up at Hounen-in and while I was there I thought I might as well take in the current exhibition. It turned out to be just my cup of tea!
I have written about Hounen-in before. It’s always a nice little temple to visit, nestled in the woods along Kyoto’s north-eastern hills. The fact that they have a little gallery there makes it alll the more special. The exhibit that opened today is of costumes and photography inspired by Japan’s oldest anthology of poetry, the Manyōshū (万葉集 or “A Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”). The exhibitors Akio Nishimoto, Kara Yamaguchi and Namie Nishimoto have specifically selected 17 love poems from the collection and arranged them about the room to reflect the cycle of the seasons… Why love poems? They write: “Today we hear many young people in Japan describe love as a “bother” or they go about finding a partner like a job search, but what could be more poignant than an expression of human love in all its forms?” Maybe it’s because I’m a summer baby (and born around the time of Tanabata) but my own favorite poem was this one:
天の川 瀬ごとに幣を たてまつる 心は君を 幸く来ませと
There in the heavenly rapids of the Milky Way I made an offering of cloth to the gods. Please give him safe passage to me tonight.
Ｉt is inspiring to see artists today continuing to find their motivation in words of love first spoken over a thousand years ago. Their colorful works enhance the enjoyment of these ancient poems and are in turn imbued themselves with new shades of meaning. The artists themselves speak of a desire to reinfuse modern Japanese with the simple profundity and passion of the people of ancient Yamato.
…people of ancient Nara sang about love, life and the land of Yamato. Today we can relive their vibrant spirit through the more than 4,500 poems which make up the Manyōshū, Japan’s oldest anthology of poetry. They expressed the profound journey of human life in great depth, as they embraced their daily lives with the flow and ebb of the seasons on the Yamato plain.
Many mountains adorn the land of Yamato
But it is to the heavenly summit of Mt. Kagu that I climb now
to behold the great unfolding plain.
Pillars of smoke rise from hearths far below
and seagulls soar here and there over the waters of the land.
Oh what a sight to be cherished, this great land of Yamato.
– Emperor Jomei
…The spirit of the Manyōshū also reminds us of the intimate connection between the cycles of nature and human spirit, and if we but stop to smell the fragrance of the plum blossoms, we will once more be reminded of the joy of our existence in the eternal cycles of life.
The Manyōshū exhibtion at Hounen-in continues until Sunday (March 13th) and is open each day from 10:00 ~ 16:00. Entry to the temple and the gallery is free. To find Hounen-in go south from Ginkakuji along Tetsugaku-no-michi (The Path of Philosophy) and after a 15 minute walk you should see a sign on your right for 法然院. Cross the canal and you’ll find yourself on a side street. Go left again and you’ll find the entrance on your right leading up through the woods. Alternatively, coming directly from Shirakawa Dori, just go in a straight line east from the Fresco Supermarket (south of Imadegawa and north of Marutamachi) till you get to Tetsugaku-no-michi and then follow the directions as above. Here is a map.