Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Sanjusangendo (Kyoto)

Sanjusangendo is, at 120 metres), Japan’s longest wooden structure, with the name literally translating to “33 intervals” to denote the number of intervals between the building’s support columns. The temple’s other major claim to fame is for the 1001 statues of Kannon (the goddess of mercy), which are housed within the temple hall. Originally built in 1164 and destroyed by fire in 1249, the current structure dates from 1266.

Unfortunately my photographs are restricted to external views given that photography is banned inside the temple hall. This is always disappointing, particularly when it seems to be motivated by a desire to increase souvenir sales and when a blind eye is turned to those taking “selfies” on phone cameras.

Nevertheless, there is a “silver lining” and by focusing on exterior shots, one has the opportunity to highlight the quiet beauty and strength of traditional wooden structures, not to mention the wonderful hues that result as wood ages. My personal favourite is the final shot, simply because it is a timeless view that may have been shared by many over the centuries.

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


Bukko-ji (Kyoto)

Kyoto has an embarrassment of riches in the form of its impressive temples and shrines representing several Buddhist disciplines. Tourists, local and international, flock to enjoy the history and ambience of the better-known and grander temples, especially during the peak Autumn and Spring periods when nature’s allure is magnetic.

Other temples exist more quietly and this is where one finds Bukko-ji. I was fortunate to be staying near Bukko-ji, which I passed most days on my way to and from my apartment and one day I acted on my daily reminder that “I must visit here before I leave”. Since visiting, it remains as a most memorable visit and serves as an example of the jewels one often finds by simply wandering away from the main thoroughfares.

Bukko-ji has a long history of teaching Shin Buddhism and promoting its message to: “Become a real human under the guiding light of the original power of Amida.” Founded in 1212 by Shinran Shonin, Bukko-ji moved to its present site in central Kyoto in 1586 and today sits comfortably within a neighbourhood of apartment buildings, hotels and other businesses. We talk today of community hubs, but I wonder how many can claim to have served the role for over 400 years.

Two halls joined by a connecting bridge dominate the temple complex. To the left is the Amida Hall or Hondo (main hall), where the statue of Amida Buddha is enshrined and to the right is Daishl-do (Great Priest’s Hall), where the seated statue of Shinran Shonin is enshrined. Typical of Japanese temples, the wide eaves provide protection from the elements and allow worshippers and visitors to move freely between the halls. Indeed, I would go as far as claiming that walking on the smooth boards, polished over time by many feet, as one of life’s simple pleasures.

The selected photographs aim to emphasise two aspects of Bukko-ji and arguably similar Japanese temples. The external shots remind one of strong beauty. Built from solid native timbers, these wooden structures are built to last and stand with an unspoken invitation as safe havens. The internal shots show a quiet, serene environment that invites contemplation. Softly filtered light, expansive tatami floors, classic scenes depicted on painted wall panels, statues of revered deities and splendidly adorned altars combine to make time spent in either hall a memorable experience.

I hope the photographs give readers some insight into Bukko-ji and serve as a reminder that Kyoto has many more hidden jewels. My memories from the visit include the friendliness of administrators and other staff I met during my visit; the absolute joy of being the only visitor there and having the halls to myself; the feel of the tatami; and most of all the feeling of calm and of life slowing down, if only for a while.

May Bukko-ji still be there for another 400 years.

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


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.)

Autumn in Japan



Irrashaimase or welcome to my first post.  It’s now Autumn in Japan, so it seems right to share some photographs of the seasonalAutumn colours.  Science may explain the colour changes as a chemical reaction to trees shutting-off nutrition to the leaves, but I prefer to think of it more simply as nature’s way.  To survive the winter it is necessary to shed, but not before putting on a spectacular colour display to awe all who witness it.  

To say the Autumn colours are celebrated is an understatement.  I was totally unprepared for the number of people of all ages who flock to gardens, parks and temples, particularly at weekends and public holidays, to enjoy the annual visual feast.  However, this adds to the experience and demonstrates how integral the seasons are to the Japanese culture and lifestyle.  Indeed, one feels some envy that such a natural phenomenon as seasonal change is so appreciated and that community pleasure is derived from such a natural and recurring event.  Of course, Japan has the advantage of enjoying four distinct seasons – an advantage not shared by all countries.  Nevertheless, there is a lesson to be learned from Japan’s appreciation of nature.

I do have one wish though and that is that the authorities would be less efficient in clearing away the fallen leaves.  They make a beautiful carpet and one of life’s little pleasures is walking through a carpet of rustling leaves no matter what age we are.  Enjoy!

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