Kyoto – Shōren-in Temple

untitled-156 untitled-158We wandered the secluded streets from Chion-in Temple to Shōren-in. It front of us were two majestic and ancient looking “kusunoki”, camphor trees with the Nagaya-mon building elevated on a slope. The trees are said to be 800 years old and were planted by Shinran. The sun was already setting and the wide tree canopy cast a dark shadow. Buttress roots protruded above a beautiful velvety moss surface. We followed the stone pathway towards another gate, Yakuimon Gate. This brought us to the inner temple. It was founded in the 9th century as a retirement palace for the emperor and is sometimes known as the Awata Palace. The retired Emperor Toba (1097- 1155) named the temple Shōren-in and eventually, his son Prince Kakukai- shin’no (1134- 1181), became the head priest. Since then, until the Meiji- era (1868- 1912), each head priest of Shoren- in was from the imperial family or the regent family. In 1788, a great fire broke out in Kyōto and the Imperial Palace was reduced to ashes. Shōren- in became the temporary Imperial Palace.

untitled-162 DSC_0333After the reception, having removed our footwear, we entered a large tatami floor room, “Kacho- den”, drawing room. There are not many colours used in temple buildings but here in the room, all the “fusuma”, paper sliding doors had beautiful lotus flower painting by Kimura Hideki. Above the doors, 36 framed pictures with poems were hung on the wall. The portraits are of monks, aristocracies and politicians. Through each open “fusuma”, a delightful view was framed. Either, the exterior garden or colourful lotus flowers decorated with dragonflies, frogs and tortoises. These doors also help create ‘rooms’ merely by shutting and opening these “fusuma” and “shoiji”, rice paper sliding doors. Then we entered a wide tatami room – delightfully named – garden viewing room, with a lovely veranda. Light beamed into this room with unobstructed views of the garden.

untitled-171 untitled-169A few magnificent Japanese Red Pines with lovely lime green needles, was the focal point, surrounded by shrub topiaries, maples and cherry trees. Further down, a pond surrounded with artistically and ecstatically planted trees, mixed plants and natural stones created an appealing sight. Beyond that, the natural surrounding hills. This garden is attributed to Soami, and is called “Soami-no- niwa”, Soami’s Garden. A stone water basin, “tsukubai”, was placed at the edge of the veranda. This is one of the most beautiful gardens I had seen.

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There were only a few visitors today. Thus, this hall was quiet. Sounds of birds chirping and rustling leaves in the gentle breeze accentuated the tranquil feeling. We, like others, sat on the mats and admired the magnetic views in silence. Sitting on a raised building with no barriers to the garden gave me almost a levitated feeling. I was floating in an oasis, a Garden of Eden. Even the creaking sounds of people walking barefoot on the wooden boards on the adjoining veranda became faint. Such is the intoxicating appeal of these surroundings, particularly the gardens.

There were only a few visitors today. Thus, this hall was quiet. Sounds of birds chirping and rustling leaves in the gentle breeze accentuated the tranquil feeling. We, like others, sat on the mats and admired the magnetic views in silence. Sitting on a raised building with no barriers to the garden gave me almost a levitated feeling. I was floating in an oasis, a Garden of Eden. Even the creaking sounds of people walking barefoot on the wooden boards on the adjoining veranda became faint. Such is the intoxicating appeal of these surroundings, particularly the gardens.

Shōren-in is not a place to hurry. Just take a place on the edge of the room on the tatami mats. Perhaps have some tea. Then, gaze through the sculptured branches, clipped shrubs, easing towards the pond and beyond it, the rolling densely vegetated hills. The trees and shrubs are intentionally pruned to abstract and accentuate the best views. The eyes, like the meandering paths, encourages one to explore all corners of this magnificent garden.

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