Saturday, 30 May 2009

Saiho-ji Temple a.k.a. Koke-dera, Moss Temple

Saiho-ji Temple(Koke-dera/Moss Temple), Katsura, Kyoto

A friend had applied for permission to visit Saiho-ji(西芳寺) temple and asked me to join him. Saiho-ji or Koke-dera has long been top of my wish list of places to visit. I had never taken the trouble to apply even my interest was high, because the temple only accepts visitors after a written application. It sounded a lot of bother to go through.

Of course I said I would go.

It costs 3,000yen to visit. Some think it’s outrageous, but I don’t. In fact, I like the attitude. They accept visitors as a religious occasion. The visitors have to do syakyo(写経), copying Hannyashinnkyo(般若心経) Heart Sutra, which consists of 260 or more Kanji, Chinese characters, with Indian ink and a brush. Before that we chant the sutra 3 times with monks. –Though it doesn’t have to be done perfectly. Then we are free to walk around the garden.

People mostly go there to see the garden.

But it provides a good opportunity to experience things like that. As I concentrated copying characters, I didn’t think of anything and just focused on characters, although sitting with folded legs was killing me with pins and needles.

The temple is more familiarly called Koke-dera, because the garden is covered with moss.

The moss looks like green velvet carpets.

It’s recorded that it wasn’t covered with moss when the garden was created. With passing time moss has grown and covered the ground to give a much prettier, calm atmosphere to the garden which can’t be created by hand, requiring natural help to make the site just perfect.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Nishijin: a kimono district

Nishijin district, Kyoto

My Ikebana flower arrangement class mate sent me an invitation to her company’s open day exhibition. Her company is a long running Nishiji weaver of many generations and she designs obi sash there. Till I visited I only knew she designed obi at a workshop and didn’t expect it was this kind of company she worked for.

Although I hardly ever wear one I love kimonos, both to look at and wear. Actually my family’s business is part of Nishijin industry, processing yearns. I see only row material at home, not the glamorous, beautiful finished products she sees.

Nishijin or Kimono industry is generally divided into lots of specialized processes and Kimono or obi sashes are completed by assembling the various component parts. After that they distribute through lots of wholesalers to reach us. It still relies on the old distribution route system.

I sometimes ask how much kimonos cost. It isn’t easy to guess the price because it all depends on the quality of each item, there’s no general price. Some are extremely expensive and others more moderately priced. How much you spend might depend on how much you appreciate them of course.

Anyway, her works are utterly beautiful - stunning. The best way to develop an appreciation for kimono is to see good quality as much as possible. I thank for her for giving me such an opportunity. Generally it’s difficult to pop in kimono shops to see them and ask the prices unless you know someone with the connection.

She also showed me her workshop.

This is the design room full of reference books. There’s another room just for storing the books.

In this room both walls are covered with yarns which are selected to match the colour needed according to the pattern produced in the design room, rather like painting by numbers.

This room is producing trials. Her company makes many different kinds of obi sash from cotton to silk and each of the looms are designed to weave in 3 or 4 different ways. The products are checked and then the designs are sent to the factory.

I asked her how many pieces were made with each design. The maximum is two with very expensive ones and five with moderately priced ones. If the design sells well, it would be produced with different colour combinations. These numbers are surprisingly small compared to most other garments.

She creates beautiful things, requiring so much of work. She rightly loves her job. It is very very good.

Visiting may be possible but will need advanced arrangement.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto

This shrine is a popular destination for students, because enshrined there is the god of wisdom or study, Sugawara-no-Michizane(菅原道真) known as Tenjin-san(天神さん).

He was a prominent bureaucrat in the Heian period who advised the Emperor to terminate Imperial Japanese embassies to China which had been taking place for over 260 years since A.D.630. Later he was plotted against by an envious rival and exiled to Kyushu where he died in despair. There are many stories and legends about him and he is a popular figure in mystery stories of the city along with Onmyoji(陰陽師) Abe no Seimei(安倍晴明) and the Emperor Sutoku(崇徳天皇).

The other aspect of the shrine is a flea market held on the 25th of every month and the precinct is full of market traders selling kimono, antiques, crafts, plants and so on.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Ryoan-ji gardens

Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto

If anyone thinks of visiting Kyoto, Ryoan-ji(竜安寺) might be an automatic choice to visit. The “must see” reputation means everyone goes and the temple is always busy from morning to evening. The main attraction, the dry rock garden, is far from tranquil viewed from amongst the crowds.

What attracts so many people? It’s the mystery of the garden.
Almost no historical records remain and both the designer and the concept behind it are still unknown. Many scholars and researchers have given their reasons, but it is still been a controversial issue.

Forget about all the fuss and simply enjoy the garden seems to be the best way.

The roof of the Abbot quarter in front of the garden is being restored right now. That the view of the garden is different from usual because of the scaffolding and a temporary extended stage might seem to detract from it but it also means we can approach much closer to the stones and the different view might not be so bad after all for those who have visited previously.

The dry rock garden is what is most associated with this temple but it has a pleasant and much larger garden to stroll around. The precinct was originally the second house of an aristocratic family in the Heian period and retains some of the character of a private home. We can enjoy the two different styles of Japanese garden, a Zen rock garden and an aristocratic strolling garden.

The pond might have been used for a boating party by aristocrats who probably enjoyed the Moon Viewing there as well.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The garden of Toji-in Temple

the garden, Toji-in Temple, Kyoto

I love the Japanese garden. I like how it looks, but I love the idea and symbolism behind it. The more I get to know the details, more I like it.

One of my favourite gardens is Toji-in(等持院) garden near Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji. Those two temples are always busy, by comparison Toji-in is very quiet and calm and the least known to visitors.

Toji-in used to have a much bigger precinct, but most of the land has been sold; it’s difficult to imagine how glorious the old days must have been now. In the past Mt.Kinugasa was incorporated as part of it’s totality as “borrowed scenery”(借景), sadly a university expanded its premises between the two destroying the effect.

Look on the bright side.

This garden was designed for viewing different scenes while walking along the meandering path encompassing the ponds, it is in the Strolling garden style(回遊式庭園). The layout is carefully arranged and makes us feel it’s much more spacious than it actually is.

Inside the tea house.
The platform was where the shogun was seated.

The temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji, the first shogun of Muromachi shogunate, and grandfather of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who founded Kinkaku-ji temple, and Ashikaga Yoshimasa who founded Ginkaku-ji was his great great grandson.

Takauji asked Muso Soseki, a prominent monk and garden designer for guidance. It later became the Ashikaga dynasty’s funeral temple and all their shogun were buried here and their statues are kept at Reiho-den.

The first time I went there, Reiho-den was very dark and surrounded by 15 Ashikaga shoguns’ statues with their crystal eyes was kind of spooky and I hurried out genuinely afraid. Nowadays the statues are back-lit and are behind glass for protection, there’s even an alarm in place now. I guess so many statues and ornaments have been stolen from temples and shrines recently that sadly it’s a necessary precaution.

Azaleas have just finished.
The garden would be pretty with azalea in spring
and Japanese Maples in autumn.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Masks have disappeared from shelves lately

People all over the world worried about the news of the recent swine flu. The first patient, a 10 years old boy, in Kyoto was found last week. Disposable masks have disappeared from shelves sometime ago. I heard that it almost impossible to buy them anywhere around here. I personally rather doubt whether they are effective against the flu, but precaution might be a wise man’s thought.

Friday, 15 May 2009

a day out to Fushimi: Fushimi-Inari Shrine

Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Then, we moved to Fushimi-Inari Shine(伏見稲荷大社) which is well-known for its 1,000 torii gates.

The shrine is also one of the most popular to visit for the first shrine visit at New Year in the Kansai area. I had only visited at that time and could hardly see anything but people, consequently the whole site felt surprisingly spacious this time.

Fushimi-Inari Shrine is the head quarter of all the Inari shrines through out Japan. The main god “Inari”, is the god of business. You can easily identify Inari shrines by a pair of fox guardian statues with a torii gate. The fox is considered Inari god’s massager.

Around the shrine are many shops selling this Shinto sect’s products such as miniature red torii gates, statues of foxes, family alters and the like.

Walking towards the mountain, we reach what are said to be “1,000 torii gates”, but in fact the actual number is slightly less than 1,000 now. The path covered with the gates leads up and down the mountain and the route takes 2 hours to walk according to the map.

We were too tired and I preferred not to go this time. Some of us have been along the path before and I put off till the next visit.

a day out to Uji: Tea

Taiho-an Tea House, Uji, Kyoto Pref.

The city of Uji has a tea house, Taiho-an(対鳳庵), open to the public to experience tea ceremony for 500yen.

It literary means
"a hut opposite phoenix hall"
meaning that
it was located the opposite
Byodo-in Phoenix Hall.

It has a small
but decent "roji" garden.

It was built in 1993
and meant to be suitable
for any school of tea ceremony,
include ryurei(立礼), a bench seated, style.

15 of us were
in an 8 and half
tatami-mat size room.

Usually a sweet is served with tea
and corresponds with to the season,
or suited the theme of the tea ceremony.

The sweet had a Kakitsubata iris(杜若) motif
and later a tea was served in a bowl
with a matching motif.

The day I went was a Sunday and many people were waiting. 15 of us were squeezed into a room and the door could hardly be closed. It wasn’t the serene atmosphere needed to appreciate tea ceremony I must say. I recommend that you visit during weekdays or off-season to enjoy a better atmosphere.

You can also enjoy a boat trip on the Uji River.

Since Uji is an important tea producing area, you may see various kinds of green tea flavoured foods.

Green tea flavoured noodles(茶蕎麦) are one of the local specialities.

Cha-dango(茶団子), sweet green tea flavoured sticky rice cakes, are my favourite.