johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Karesansui

Karesansui is the Japanese word for dry landscape gardens. Introduced to Japan as landscape concepts from China and Korea around the seventh century, the form progressively evolved to take on a distinctive Japanese style. To borrow a relatively modern terminology, karesansui may be described as minimalist in their design, an approach consistent with the Japanese view that frugality is virtuous.

Karesansui are gardens for the mind, designed to encourage contemplation and meditation. From my experience of viewing karesansui I can certainly attest to their ability to induce a contemplative state of mind. Alas, my meditative skills are very limited, but one can imagine such environments being conducive to intense meditation for skilled practitioners.

I regret not having spent more time visiting and photographing karesansui, but in this post I offer a selection of shots from Kyoto’s Ryoanji and Ginkakuji temples. Ryoanji is considered to be the finest example of dry landscape gardening and Ginkakuji’s expansive Sea of Silver Sand and large (Mount Fuji) sand cone is quite unforgettable.

Photographs are a poor substitute for the real experience, but I hope you will experience a little appreciation of these wonderful and enduring gardens.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Greater Nanzen-ji (Kyoto)

For me the starting point of a visit to Nanzen-ji is when one walks through the short pedestrian tunnel under the Keage incline, which, in the springtime, is awash with cherry blossom.  Continuing down the lane past some wonderful residences, one finds the Konchi-in temple, which has occupied its present location since 1605.

Kyoto is famous for its temples and each temple seems to have a character of its own and when I think of Konchi-in I think of harmony.  Passing through a torii gate as in pic 1 invites reflection and in this photograph I see the harmony of imperfect perfection.  Although the plantings are precise and ordered, the gardeners have followed nature’s lead.  Similarly, the seven-leaf maple cascading over the roof tiles (pic 3) matches the pattern on the circular ends of the tiles.  Finally, even the addition of an electric light fitting above the centuries-old temple door (pic 4) blends with the overall aesthetic of the gloriously weathered colours.

Continuing on to the greater Nanzen-ji complex and passing through the Sanmon Gate (refer to my last posting), one comes across the imposing Hatto Hall.  Unfortunately this lecture hall is not open to the public.  A later addition (in 1890) to the Nanzen-ji complex is the Suirokaku Aqueduct, which appears more Roman than Japanese and is part of the Lake Biwa Canal, which continues to supply more than 90% of Kyoto’s water supply.  Over the years the brick structure has aged gracefully (pics 6 to 8) and has become an attraction in its own right.

Behind the aqueduct is the Nanzen-in Temple, which I associate with a feeling of calm.  The gardens built around the main hall seem to offer an invitation to slow down and indeed, during the autumn, most people simply stop to enjoy the splendrous colours.  A glimpse is given by pics 9 to 12 and the gardens of Nanzen-in are certainly for meandering.

Finally, the Saisho-in Temple (pics 13 to 16) is a small sub-temple dating back to the eighth century and located close to the start of the aqueduct.  The space is embracing, which the inscription shown at pic 16 communicates far more ably than my words.

Perhaps I will return to some of these places in later blogs, but for now I hope you find this little glimpse of the Nanzen-ji complex interesting.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Ryoanji in Autumn

Ryoanji (the Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is located in the foothills northwest of Kyoto.  If visiting, I would recommend travelling on the small train of the Keifuku Kitano Line to enjoy a view of residential life in Kyoto.

Ryoanji is a Zen temple most famous for its karesansui (rock garden), which is said to be the finest garden of its type.  The karesansui will be the subject of a later post, though glimpses of the magnificent garden wall can be seen in photos 6 and 7.  For this post I simply want to share the beauty of Ryoanji’s other garden areas during autumn, particularly those around the Kyoyochi Pond, built in the 12th century and pre-dating the temple buildings of the late 15th century.

“I learn only to be contented” is the translation of an inscription on a stone washbasin for Ryoanji’s tea-room (not open to the public).  Zen considers those who learn only to be contented to be spiritually rich.  My hope here is less ambitious and is simply that you may find contentment in the images.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)