Sunday, June 6, 2010

Of Flying Dragons and Bamboo - Arashiyama & Sagano

21st October, 2006 - Getting off the Romance Train at Sagano we had planned to spend a little time walking around the area (as we had plans for later on that night at Hozugawa in neighbouring Arashiyama).

Sagano is an area well known for the bamboo groves that set an eerie wail through the shadowy surrounding mountains.  Walking further north will eventually lead to Adashino Nembetsu-ji, where the bones of paupers and destitute are buried. Unfortunately, or not, we had no time to make an appointment with the grave today!

Sagano/Arashiyama is famous for it's bamboo forests, and whilst such things should be quiet places for contemplation (and ninja flying) the reality is that this is one of favourite places to visit outside of the city. Lots of people walk through these forests every day... and despite that, it's still a great place to visit.

The wind makes a soothing sound as it passes through the bamboo trunks. There's mystery in those woods... Blair Witch kinda mystery... I don't think I'd like to be walking around here at night. Seems to be ripe Tengu territory if you ask me!

There are a number of smaller temples within the bamboo groves, such as the Nonomiya Jinja.

It was said that in Heian times (roughly 800 - 1200AD) the Imperial princesses would seclude themselves away to purify themselves before becoming priestesses of the Ise shinto shrine. It also features in the famous Japanese literary work, the Tale of Genji.

This is one of the smaller and quieter shrines in Kyōto, and yet it still has a stillness (despite the people). This was the first example of a moss garden in Kyōto - a very modest example.

This shrine is also reasonably famous for offering prayers for the health of babies. An important consideration for us now. T-chan wrote a prayer on one of the ema boards, and posted it off to the kami (i.e. gods)... express mail.

Arashiyama is known for a number of things - one of which is the temple Tenryū-ji. Tenryū-ji, otherwise known as the temple of the Heavenly Dragon, was constructed in 1339 AD as a Rinzai Zen sect temple following the death of the Emperor Go-Daigo (1288 – 1338 AD). The emperor died during the civil war that swept the Ashikaga family to shogunal power.

The building of the temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji (1305 – 1358 AD), as myth would have it to appease both the ghost of Go-Daigo and the Imperial Court. Appeasing ghosts sounds much more important, if a little less practical. This was done by renovating one of the emperors villas into the temple complex that remains today. 

The temple has been destroyed by fire no less than eight times, the latest being in 1864 – although the garden (knowns as Sōgenchi) remains as one of the oldest existing in Japan. In shape, it is said to resemble the character meaning “heart and mind” (pronounced kokoro). Unlike most previous gardens with ponds, the pond is principally a viewing element, together with the series of vertical rocks.

The first abbot was the renowned Musō Soseki (1275 – 1351 AD), who would be famous for other gardens around Kyōto, including the moss garden of Saiho-ji. Takuaji had previously made him abbot of both Nanzen-ji and Toji-in.

 He arranged for a trading ship to set sail for China to raise funds that would be necessary for the construction of the temple. This was the first trading mission to China since the failed Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. Indeed, the temple was one of the key methods of normalising relations with China.

This temple would be ranked first of the five so-called zen mountains of Kyōto, or Kyōto Gozan.

It's not the most spectacular of temple complexes in Kyōto, however, it fits well with the environments, and makes for a different afternoon excursion from the main-stream sights of Kyōto. There's also a monkey park (Iwatayama) nearby that is most likely worth a visit - especially if you like going one-on-one with one of human-kinds closer kindred.
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  1. Kyoto looks gorgeous from your photos! I wish you stuck around at night though. I wonder if there are still ninjas that inhabit the bamboo forest!

  2. Hmmm - the story hasn't finished yet. Although I'm not sure I can promise ninja.

    Stay tuned.