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DAY 4 (3/6): KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara.  The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods.  First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns.  As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared.  Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha.  Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.

01Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.

02Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods.  They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.

04We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex.  The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.

05Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.

06From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.

07Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.

08.JPGMany lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine.  Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence.  Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.

09After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).

10Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉).  The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.

11Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).

12Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine.  Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.

14Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.

15Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.

16The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.

17There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha.  How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.

18Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.

19After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine).  Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.

21Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.

22There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited several of the auxiliary shrines.  The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.

24It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry.  Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.

25Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan

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DAY 2 (2/6): KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

The Kiyomizu-dera in early morning offered quite a big contrast compared to our previous night visit.  Tranquility replaced commotion of excited crowds.  Soft sunlight took over artificial floodlights.  After entering the Nio-men Gate (仁王門), we walked up to the main temple platform along with several local visitors.    To avoid the tourist crowds coming in an hour or so, we first made our way to the Hondo (本堂), or the Main Hall.  At the entrance of the wooden Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台), we tried lifting the displayed Steel Geta and Steel Shakujou, two Buddhist objects dedicated to Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶), a 12th century warrior monk who was famous for his loyalty and strength.  We could lift up the lighter Shakujou (12 kg/26 lbs), but definitely not the heavy Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs).  We wandered on the wooden stage for a while, and went over to the deck of Okunoin Hall for an overview of the Main Hall, the colourful autumn maples and the distant skyline of Kyoto.

A flight of stone steps adjacent to the Main Hall led us to the popular Jishu Shrine (地主神社), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto (大国主命), a deity of love and matchmaking.  Perched above the thatched roof of the Main Hall, the Jishu Shrine is consisted of a cluster of small shrines around a main shrine.  The shrine is popular for lonely hearts who are seeking for real love, as well as couples who are praying for consolidation of their relationships.  At the forecourt of Jishu, two rocks stand 18m apart from each other.  Legend said that if one can walk from one rock to the other with their eyes shut, then their wishes for love would come true.  Names of donors from all over Japan and foreign countries are displayed inside and outside the shrine, indicating just how universal a simple wish for love is.  Apart from love, visitors also come to pray for good fortunate and safety for their family, and smooth delivery for their babies.

As we descended back to the Main Hall, the sun had finally moved above the mountain and shined on the temple buildings.  We made a detour to the temple forecourt for a few more pictures of the buildings under the morning sun.  We then walked south towards the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, at the far end of the valley.  Standing right by the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda and looked across the valley, we had a great view of the Kiyomizu-dera as the shadow of eastern mountains gradually receded.  We continued down the valley path to the base of Kiyomizu Stage, where we encountered multiple groups of school students who came for a school trip with their teachers and tour guides.  A large group of the school students gathered at the Otowa Waterfall, waiting for their turn to taste the sacred water from one of the three waterfall streams.  Given the super long queue, we gave up the idea of trying it ourselves.  After a night stroll and an early morning visit, we truly enjoyed Kiyomizu-dera with its magnificent timber architecture, spiritual atmosphere, natural setting, and views of the city.  It was time for us to move on to other places in Higashiyama and Gion before the afternoon rain arrived.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the temple from the main gate of Nio-men (仁王門) and walked up to the main temple platform.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors tried to lift the Steel Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs) and Steel Shakujou (12 kg/ 26 lbs) at the entrance of Kiyomizu Stage.

06The Main Hall and Stage of Kiyomizu-dera would soon be covered in scaffolding for a major renovation.

07The crimson maples in front of the Kiyomizu Stage offered a poetic sense of autumn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were only several local visitors around, allowing us to enjoy the temple peacefully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was well past the peak moment but the autumn foliage was still a major enhancement to our visit of Kiyomizu-dera.

05Out the wooden balustrade, we could see the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda at the far end of the valley.

05bAutumn colours at the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.

08The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage as seen from the deck of Okunoin Hall.

09Close up of the structure of Kiyomizu Stage and the valley path.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe stair that led us up to the Jishu Shrine, a sacred place for worshipers seeking for fortune of love.

11One of the two love stones in the forecourt of Jishu Shrine.

12The main shrine of Jishu Shrine was covered with names of donors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the several small shrines at Jishu Shrine where worshipers can make a variety of prayers and wishes, from good fortune to smooth childbirth.

14Okuninushi no Mikoto, the deity of love and matchmaking, and his messager the rabbit.

15Kyodo, the Sutra Hall and Sanjunoto, the Three-storey Pagoda under the morning sun.

16The morning warmed up as the shadow of the eastern mountains receded from the autumn maples below Kiyomizu Stage.

dsc_2023Not until we reached the far end of the valley that we realized the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, was actually quite small.

18Overview of Kiyomizu-dera as seen from Koyasu-no-to Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe valley path below Kiyomizu Stage was packed with school groups.

20Many students were interested for a sip of the sacred water at the Otowa Waterfall.

21It was already 9:30am when we left Kiyomizu-dera.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 1 (6/6): NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

As first time visitors to Kyoto, we were eager to see the autumn colours at the world famous Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), especially when we knew that the iconic Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台) would undergo a major renovation starting from January 2017.  It was the second last day of the season that Kiyomizu-dera opened for autumn special night viewing, and according to local weather forecast, Kyoto’s weather would turn bad in a day’s time.  Without hesitation we hopped on a bus near Kitano Tenmangu and headed back to Higashiyama.  We had some rest on the 45-minute bus ride.  After getting off, we picked one alleyway to walk uphill.  Soon we arrived at the magnificent Hokanji Yasaka Pagoda (法観寺 八坂の塔).  As we walked uphill, we felt like we were pilgrims going back in time, entering into a world of narrow stone alleyways, centuries-old timber houses and Buddhist buildings.  Along the way, most shops were already closed, but a few souvenir and snack shops still opened to serve the night visitors of Kiyomizu-dera.  Over our heads, we soon discovered a strong beam of blue light in the sky, pointing from Mount Otowa (音羽山) where the temple was situated, outwards to the infinite sky above the city.  According to the official website, the light embodies the Kannon (観音)’s compassion, brightening the streets of the ancient city.  For us, it was like a guidance leading us uphill.  It get more crowded as we walked closer to the temple.  Minutes later we arrived at the stepped plaza of Niomon Gate (仁王門).  In front of the famous Saimon Gate (西門), we lined up to get our admission tickets from a temporary shelter and delightfully walked up the stair to enter the temple complex.

The autumn foliage at Kiyomizu-dera had past its peak a few days ago.  Nonetheless, all visitors including us were excited to tour around the celebrated complex under the illuminations of floodlights and embellishment of the remaining autumn maples.  At the main hall, we took off our shoes, paid our respect in front of the sanctuary, and admired the illuminated autumn colours down in the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.  Standing 13m above the valley, the Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台) had been the centerpiece of the temple for centuries.  Without using a single nail, the Kiyomizu Stage is made of 410 Hinoki wooden boards supported by 18 Zelkova pillars using the hole and grooves technique known as the Kakezukuri Method.  From the stage, a stone path led us to the opposite side of the valley, where a large crowd gathered in front of Okunoin Hall (奥の院) looking back to admire the  main hall and Kiyomizu Stage.  Perched above the fire red maples, the huge roof of the main hall made of Hinoki bark and the lattice structure of Kiyomizu Stage looked gorgeously timeless, while the comet-like beam of blue light connected the temple with the glittering urban skyline beyond.  The path overlooking the valley of colourful leaves then led us further away from the main hall until reaching the base of the small pagoda where we headed down to the valley.  In the valley, a tree-lined path brought us all the way back to the bottom of the Kiyomizu Stage, where the adjacent Otowa waterfall (音羽の瀧) came down in three separated streams.  Another crowd of visitors formed a long queue at the waterfall, waiting for their turn to drink the water with the special cup provided.  As we headed to the temple exit, we passed by a mirror-like pond with magnificent reflections of autumn leaves and the orange Three-storey Pagoda above the cliff.

We were overjoyed for having such a fruitful day of sightseeing.  To give this beautiful day a satisfying closure we opted for a late dinner.  We walked downhill from Kiyomizu-dera, passed through Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社), and entered the lively district of Gion (祇園), the active area of traditional geisha.  We picked Okaru (おかる), a small udon restaurant popular with geiko since established in 1923.  We ordered two of their signature noodle bowls and felt truly grateful of finishing our wonderful first day of Kyoto.

dsc_1567Passing by the Hokanji Yasaka Pagoda (法観寺 八坂の塔) as we headed up to Kiyomizu-dera.

02Minutes later we arrived at the stepped plaza of Niomon Gate (仁王門).

dsc_1589In front of the famous Saimon Gate (西門), we lined up to get our admission tickets from a temporary shelter, while the beam of blue light shot up the sky behind the temple.

03Stone statue in front of the Three-storey Pagoda.

04Looking back out to the Three-storey Pagoda behind entering the main hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors stepping into the timber structure of the main hall.

dsc_1649Inside the main hall, the sanctuary is consisted of three sections: outer, inner, and innermost.  Only the outer sanctuary is open to the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors gathered on the Kiyomizu Stage photographing the skyline of Kyoto.

09The strong beam of blue light shot out from Mount Otowa behind the temple.

10Behind the Kiyomizu Stage, a prominent stair led down to the Otowa waterfall.

11Iconic overview of Kiyomizu Stage, main hall, autumn maples, blue light and Kyoto skyline.

12The beam of blue light pointed towards Kyoto Tower in a distance.

13The stair adjacent to the timber structure of the Kiyomizu Stage.

dsc_1723The amazing structure of Kiyomizu Stage lit up with floodlight.

dsc_1713Lanterns indicating special night viewing, which happens three times a year: cherry season in spring, three days of Thousand-day Pilgrimage/Special Viewing of nainaijin in the Main Hall in the summer, and the maple colours in autumn.

15.JPGAutumn foliage and the Three-storey Pagada reflected in the pond near the exit.

14Autumn colours, blue light and the Three-storey Pagoda.

16By the time we returned to the Niomon Gate (仁王門), Kiyomizu-dera was already closed for the night.

17We passed by the lanterns at Yasaka Shrine on the quest for our late dinner.

18We picked Okaru (おかる) in Gion for a simple noodle bowl.

19We ordered two of the signature dishes: curry and cheese udon and local duck udon.

20Curry and cheese udon and local duck udon.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 1 (3/6): NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

Some bloggers mention Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) is their favorite temple in Kyoto.  It is not a small feat for any Kyoto temple to become someone’s favorite given the city has over 1600 temples.  We had high expectations for Ninnaji before the trip and was delighted to check out this head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingong Sect of Buddhism on our first day.  Following street signage, it was an easy 15-minute walk from Ryoanji to Ninnaji.  The air was cool and refreshing in the northwestern foothills of Kyoto.  The occasional vivid autumn leaves along the way made our walk even more pleasant.  Founded in AD 888 by Emperor Uda, Ninnaji Temple maintained its close connection with the imperial family until Meji Restoration in the 19th century.  For a thousand years the temple’s abbot had always been served by someone in the imperial family .  Today most surviving buildings date back to the 17th century.

Ninnaji Temple is consisted of two main parts: Garan (伽藍) and Goren (御殿).  The monumental main gate Nio-mon Gate (二王門) is one of the three famous gates in Kyoto, representing the magnificent timber skills and sense of beauty of ancient craftsmen.  We started our visit at the Goren (御殿) just behind the ticket office.  After taking off our shoes, we entered the Goren through a zigzag covered walkway, which ended at a peaceful dry zen garden known as the Dantei (南庭), or the South Garden.  The pebbles and sand were arranged in rows across a large area, with the beautiful Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and the Nio-mon Gate as prominent visual focuses in the background.  The tranquil atmosphere of Dantei prompted us to stay for a short while to enjoy the pleasant moment.  Following the covered verandas, we walked around Dantei to admire the traditional wall paintings inside prayer rooms along the way.  The paintings on the golden walls in the Shinden (宸殿), the main hall, revealed an imperial touch in the design as if the interior of an imperial palace.  After another turn we reached a completely different garden, the Hokutei (北庭), the North Garden.  The main focus of Hokutei was a serene reflecting pool, reflecting the autumn foliage and the Five-Storey Pagoda in the Garan further in the background.  Just a few minutes before we were admiring the abstract dry landscape of Dantei, where sand and pebbles metaphorize the sea, rocks as islands and trees as forests.  A few minutes later we had entered a lush world of greenery and water in the Hokutei.

After the Goren, we walked over to Chu-mon Gate (中門) into the much larger Garan (伽藍).  The entire Goren area was like a park, with several buildings scattered over in the area.  We first headed over to the Gojunoto (五重塔), or the Five-storey Pagoda, an elegant tower visible from many places in Ninnaji.  Behind the pagoda, we arrived at  Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神), a peaceful Shinto shrine under the shade of trees.  After clapping, praying and bowing in front of the shrine, we continued to wander around Garan.  Next came Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵), a squarish timber building used to store the Buddhist scriptures.  Back to the central area, we reached the largest building in Garan, the Kondo (金堂), or the Golden Hall, and the orange painted Syoro (鐘楼).  None of these buildings were open, but it was the poetic atmosphere of these historical buildings in the natural setting that we enjoyed the most.  Before leaving, we had a quick visit of the Miedo (御影堂), a Buddhist hall dedicated to Kukai (弘法大師) – the famous 8th century Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism in Xian of China and founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan.  After a thorough visit of Goren and Garan, we walked through the monumental  Nio-mon Gate once again, leaving Ninnaji slightly after 3pm.  Because of the time of year the sun was already quite low, and it felt like late afternoon.  We decided to quickly take the bus a few stops northwards to probably the most popular attraction in Kyoto, the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), or the Golden Pavilion.  

01It was a pleasant 15-minute walk from Ryoanji Temple to Ninnaji Temple.

04We walked past beautiful autumn maples along the way.

02We finally reached the monumental Nio-mon Gate, the main gate of Ninnaji Temple.

03The timber structure of the Nio-mon Gate is a beautiful piece of architecture.

05After getting the admission tickets, we entered the Goren (御殿) via a stone path flanked by the dry landscape of pebble and sand.

06We took off our shoes and entered a zigzag covered walkway to enter the main buildings of Goren (御殿).

08The Dantei (南庭), South Garden, of Goren (御殿) is a peaceful dry landscape of pebbles and sand, with the Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and Nio-mon Gate (二王門) as background.

10We followed the covered verandas to circle around the buildings of Goren (御殿).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dry landscape of Dantei (南庭) could be appreciated at different angles along the way.

11An intimate pavilion just outside the timber veranda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden interiors of the Shinden (宸殿) reveals a sense of imperial aesthetics.

13The “wet” landscape of Hokutei (北庭) provided a stark contrast from the dry landscape of the Dantei (南庭).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was already getting low when we wandered around Ninnaji Temple.

14The Chu-mon Gate (中門) led us into the much larger Garan (伽藍) area.

15The old statue of a Buddhist Guardian at one side of the Chu-mon Gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Gojunoto (五重塔) in the Garan (伽藍) as seen from below.

17bUnder the tree shades, the Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神) looked peaceful.

16The squarish Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵) was a decent one-storey timber building with a big roof.

dsc_1233The Kondo (金堂), or the main hall in Garan in the park setting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe maple colour near the Kondo (金堂) were its peak.

20The orange Bell Tower adjacent to the Kondo.

19Autumn foliage in front of the Bell Tower.

dsc_1266The Miedo (御影堂) was the last building we visited in Ninnaji Temple.

18Before leaving Ninnaji, we passed by the maple leaves under the roof of the Kondo one last time.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 1 (2/6): RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

We first learnt about Ryoanji Temple and its world renowned garden of zen dry landscape or Japanese rock garden, karesansui (枯山水), back in our university years from the lectures in our class ARCH 249 – The Art and Architecture of the East.  Since then, we had longed for visiting this legendary zen garden.  Our chance had come at midday in a fine late autumn day.  The Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple is situated within a garden compound, consisting of a water pond, woodlands, gardens, pavilions, and the main building complex where the Abbot’s Chamber, Tearoom, Buddhist Hall, and the famous zen garden can be found.

It was a short walk from the San-mon (山門), or the main entrance, to the main building complex.  We took our time to admire the magnificent autumn foliage along the way.  Once inside the main building, we took off our shoes and purchased admission tickets.  First came a dim exhibition hall showcasing artefacts, calligraphy, and artworks related to the temple.  Beyond the exhibition hall was the bright wooden veranda where most visitors gathered.  On one side of the veranda was the Hojo (方丈), or Abbot’s Chamber, while on the other side lay the famous zen garden: 15 rocks of various sizes abstractly arranged in a 248 s.m area of dry pebbles.  Since the 15th century, there were various interpretations regarding the design and meaning behind the rocks, from symbolism of ancient Chinese mythologies to representation of traditional character.  It is open for everyone’s imagination and interpretation.  We sat down at the veranda to contemplate the rocks and pebbles.  The garden was too crowded with visitors for any decent meditation or tranquil moment in heart.  Against the centuries-old oil-earthen wall and the autumn foliage beyond, the garden still captured our eyes visually despite the undesirable midday sun.

After putting back on our shoes, we followed another path that meandered through a small woodland of amazing autumn foliage, passed by Yudofu (西源院) – a traditional restaurant serving tofu meals, and strolled along Kyoyochi (鏡容池), or Mirror Pond, where we enjoyed a picturesque scene of reflections, water plants and autumn foliage.  Before setting off for our next destination, we had a quick skewer of sweet rice balls near the entrance of Ryoanji.

01A sense of autumn immediately beyond the San-mon (山門) or the main gate of Ryoanji.

02An illustration of the Ryoanji Temple compound with the famous rock garden at the centre back location in front of the orange roof Abbot’s Chamber.

03We were just in time to see the last bit of amazing autumn foliage of Kyoto.

04Tree-lined path leading to the Chokushi-Mon Gate (勅使門).

05Steps leading to Chokushi-Mon Gate (勅使門).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many temples in Kyoto, we had to take off our shoes before entering the temple building of Ryoanji.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATraditional illustration of the rock garden, which is believed to be constructed in the 15th century.  Who was the original designer remains unknown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first view of Ryoanji rock garden under the unforgiving midday sun.  It would be much better off if it was overcast and gone with the shadows.

10Rock clusters, moss, pebble patterns, earthen walls and red foliage coincided to form a harmonious imagery.

11Patterns of the pebbles are carefully maintained by temple staff,  a daily duty for Zen Buddhist monks in the past.

12The timber floor decking and supporting members were soft and warm to walk on and appealing for touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATimber details of the eaves and column.

14Interior of Hojo (方丈), Abbot’s Chamber, in which the centre point should be the ideal viewing spot of the entire rock garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe timber veranda continued to wrap around the courtyards into the temple sections not open to public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA wonderful pine tree against autumn foliage in front of the main temple building.

17A side door of the rock garden remained closed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out we walked through a small woodland of magnificent colours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe autumn foliage in Kyoto is quite different than the ones we used to see in North America, in terms of leaf sizes and colour ranges.

dsc_1000Yudofu (西源院) – a traditional restaurant serving tofu meals.

dsc_1014Duck and autumn foliage at Kyoyochi (鏡容池), Mirror Pond.

dsc_1027Despite the amount of visitors alongside, it was a nice walk along the Mirror Pond.

dsc_1032After a pleasant visit of Ryoanji, we were ready to see the other temples in the area.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan