Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hohai (Pray-Respectfully)

On the ridge in the eastern mountains above Kyoto there is a series of temples and shrines that are linked by a narrow street called Tetsugaku-no-michi, the Philospher's Path.  It is mostly a gravel path with square flagstones set in it that meanders along the side of a canal that runs the ridge for quite a while.  For a good portion of it there are gnarled and twisted cherry trees on one side and the canal on the other, and occasional views across the valley of Kyoto stuffed in between the mountains.  It is a beautiful walk.

The canal is lined with stone, and though the water at the bottom is only maybe a foot deep, the stone-lined ditch is about ten feet deep, and maybe fifteen feet across at the top.  The clear water running along the bottom is home to some gigantic carp who lazily face upstream with their mouth open, eating away and generally living the life of Riley, it looks like.

We started on the path at Ginkaku-ji, the "Silver Pavillion," which is a Zen Temple and garden that was finished in 1482.  The dates here are arresting for an American, of course.  There is a completely different time frame for a lot of the structures in Kyoto than the one we are used to, and it is helpful to me to be jogged in this way.  The things that I have been learning and thinking and wanting have been learned and thought and wanted for centuries (millennia, actually) of human experience.  This does not make them less real or less important (more of both, actually), but it does help to contextualise my own life to look at it against the backdrop of all of the lives that have come before me I think.
On the right is my drawing of a small waterfall in the garden.

The temple garden is just incredibly stunning.  There is a meandering path that takes you around the gravel bed that has been carefully raked, across some small bridges, past a little waterfall.  The trees are quite old, some of them, and twisted in ways that are precarious.  Many of them are propped up with these gorgeous posts to protect them and keep them standing. 

After you meander through the garden there is a path that leads up stone steps and across the ridge and back down, giving the walker views of the temple from above swimming in a sea of leaves.  Beyond the temp,d buildings is Kyoto, jumbled and stacked in between the eastern mountains and the western ones, looking for the all teh world as if thousands of toy houses were laid out on a quilt between your legs and then you raised your legs, making them all fall into the valley.

One of my top 15 trees in Japan and the calligraphy for Ginkaku
As the walker comes back down into the garden past a forest of ruler-straight conifers of some kind (cypress?  Juniper?) one of my favorite trees in all of Japan comes in to view.  Twisted like the muscles of my forearm and propped up and an unbelievable angle, it really is so lovely and so obviously ancient that I had to spend a few minutes drawing it. 

The garden is so full of tourists like us following the path that it is hard to get a sense of what it must have been like during the Shogunate in which it was built.  A place of peace and contemplation and refuge, the quiet must have been almost alarming.

Gardeners at work pruning a tree.

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