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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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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Sanmon Gate (Kyoto)

We are all familiar with gates … house gates, station gates, security gates etc.  Kyoto’s Sanmon Gate is altogether different.  In fact, it is a gateless entry to the most sacred part of the Nanzen-ji Temple, which has been at the core of Japanese Zen history since 1386.

The Sanmon Gate is an impressive wooden structure constructed in 1626 and supported by massive wooden pillars that dwarf those passing through its five bays.  One cannot help but feel humbled by such scale and reminded of the opportunity afforded pilgrims to free themselves from the three passions of greed, hatred and foolishness.

As will be seen from the photographs, the Sanmon Gate also serves as a meeting place and a place for reflection, particularly during the cherry blossom season when it becomes a popular platform for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

Readers who enjoyed the movie Lost in Translation may also recognise the location from the scene where the Scarlett Johansson character (Charlotte) is entranced by witnessing a Shinto wedding group during a day trip to Kyoto.  I’ve only ever seen Shinto weddings at shrines rather than temples, but Hollywood is Hollywood and I still enjoyed the movie.

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