京のキー Kyoto's gardens

Kyoto's gardens

Those lazy summer months are coming. Days languishing in Kyoto's soupy heat, sweat beaded permanently on brow, body tired from sleepless nights under the whirring moan of fans. Only people born in Kyoto are insane enough to live and work in this heat...or so many of the Japanese say when visiting the city. Rainy season will shortly arrive with blustery damp, but before then it is the perfect time to enjoy the cloudless skies and gentle breezes. Soon the sun will bleach everything and -as people have done for a millenia- we will turn to the hillsides for a reprieve from the heat.

I am not a big fan of Japanese gardens. I can appreciate them, but they rarely have me excited as when I read about the history of the battles, intrigue, tragedies and romance played out in the ancient halls of the city. So naturally I spent the day visiting four very different gardens with Etsuyo. I have to admit a running stream or a turtle will keep me more than happy. The pictures are in sets of three from top to bottom.

Rozan-ji was founded (938) by the priest Ryogen and is said to have been built on the ruins of the residence of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Genji Monogatari (The Tales of Genji). Many members of the Iimperial family are buried in the grounds, which stands close to the Eastern boundary of the Imperial Palace (Gosho). The imperial family financed rebuilding after the temple was destroyed -with most of Kyoto- in the great fire of 1788. The garden (Genji-niwa) is a combination of moss and white gravel. Behind the temple is a remnant of the earthen wall that once enclosed Kyoto, constructed on the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Shojoke-in Temple (neighbour of Rozan-ji) was originally a training centre for the Jodo Buddhist Sect in the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Founded in 860 by Emperor Seiwa, the name Shojoke-in suggests the desire to achieve a state of 'perfection', symbolised by the flower-pedastal of 'pure flowers' (shojoke) Buddha is seated on. The grounds are scattered with the burial tablets of many emperors and famous personages.

Murin-an Villa is located on a slice of land near Nanzen-ji. It was built by Aritomo Yamagata (veteran statesman of the Meiji and Taisho Periods) between 1894-96. The garden was designed and overseen by Aritomo himself (with the help of Jihei Ogawa) who had some expertese in landscape gardening. In its slight space it incorporates a three-tiered waterfall, a pond, sprawling lawn, moss garden and teahouse. Inside the grounds is a western-style building, embellished inside with paintings from the Kano School (early Edo Period). The Murin-an Conference, concerning Japanese foreign policy in the run up to the Russo-Japanese War, was held by four political leaders (Marshal Aritomo Yamagata, the Leader of the Seiyu-kai Party Hirobumi Ito, Prime Minister Taro Katsura and Foreign Minister Jutaro Komura) in 1903. Aritomo died in 1922 at the age of 83. Murin-an was donated to the city in 1941.

Konchi-in was originally an independent temple on Takagamine, but was moved to Nanzen-ji in the early 15th century. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimochi appointed Daigo as head priest in 1400. Damaged in the Onin War of the 1460s, it was restored (the eight-windowed tea room, the Crane and Turtle Garden and the Toshogu Shrine were new additions) once more by Ishin Suden. The Hojo was moved to Konchi-in from Fushimi Castle along with a Chinese Style gate (Kara-mon), but the gate was later taken to the recently rebuilt Hokoku Shrine in honour of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 19th Century. Interestingly the gate removal was most likely a spiteful act as the Meiji government did not like the favour the Tokugawa had shown to Nanzen-ji.

The best thing about the whole day was an exceptionally photogenic turtle in the pond at Konchi-in. Like a model, it graciously stepped out of the water and onto a stone so that I might get a better shot. It then showed me all the best angles for snapping the best picture. Afterwards it did a few laps in the water before bidding us farewell as we left before the rain began pouring down.

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Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.

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