Tenryu-ji Temple located in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district is one of those places for which adjectives were invented. However, perhaps pointing out that Tenryu-ji is the first ranked of the Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto will stand as sufficient testimony to its significance through the ages.
Magnificent buildings within magnificent gardens within a delightful town make a visit to Tenryu-ji an experience to savour and remember. My first visit was on a holiday weekend during autumn and although the crowds made it impossible to take internal shots, the communal enjoyment and celebration of the autumn colours further enhanced the experience. An earlier post (Autumn in Japan) included several shots from Tenryu-ji and further examples of the autumn hues are shown here via the photographs of the Sogen-chi Pond. When pondering the scene, bear in mind that by retaining the same structure since their design in the fourteenth century by Muso Soseki, these gardens have truly passed the test of time.
A return visit some weeks later on a quieter day provided an opportunity to leisurely enjoy the buildings and the interior spaces. The use of dark, heavy timbers creates atmosphere and the joy of walking on timbers smoothed over the years by the steps of countless visitors is one of life’s simple pleasures.
Sitting on the Tatami floors in the Hojo (main hall) looking over Sogen-chi Pond to the landscape beyond is when one really appreciates this place. The views are serene and I distinctly remember reflecting on how difficult a monk’s life would have been centuries ago, yet how apt a reward to be able to recharge one’s spirits by gazing over a view such as that still seen today. From that moment I have thought of Tenryu-ji’s underlying character as regenerative.
A walk through the temple buildings reveals links to the past. One such link is the image of Daruma (pic 9), the Indian Buddhist monk considered to be the founder of Zen Buddhism. Similarly, pic 10 shows a shrine to Emperor Go-Daigo who lived and studied in a villa on the site of the present temple. Following his death, Ashikaga Takauji (the first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate) ordered the villa’s conversion to a Zen temple.
Of course, there is always place for fun amidst history and a popular attraction is a little ornamental pond where visitors delight in trying to land coins onto the frog statues.
(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)