Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Biwako-Sosui Canal - The Waters of Time

31st October, 2006 - As the afternoon draws to a close, we made our way back towards "civilisation"... but there's one last surprise that can be found in and around Nanzen-ji that's worth talking about. Water - or more particularly the transport of water. In a country as blessed with rainfall as Japan is (especially coming from somewhere as dry as Adelaide, Australia), it's perhaps easy to take water for granted. Finding a means of transporting water from Biwako was something that had inspired the city's leaders since Taira-no-Kiyomori's time in the thirteenth century...but had to wait for the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate to come to fruition.

One of the major achievements of the modern era within Kyōto was the building of the great Biwako-Sosui Canal. Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, and is located just the other side of the higashiyama mountain range. The Biwako-Sosui Canal was built in 1885. It carries water from the lake seven miles (11 km) away. It also provided a major transport route between Kyōto and Otsu to the north east, carrying some 157,000 persons per year, and powered the hydroelectric plant constructed in 1891. It was a feat of engineering brilliance - and audacity. It also cost 1,250,000 yen...something like ten times the city's annual budget. I've marked out a very small portion of the canal from around Nanzen-ji below in the google-map.

View Kyoto Map in a larger map

The chief architect, Tanabe Sakuro, was barely graduated when he took on the responsibility - one that would take five years to complete the first canal. That's a lot of responsibility - but it was also one of the most important tasks in modernising the city. A second canal was constructed in 1908, and took about four years to complete.

Today as you walk around Nanzen-ji you see the original red-brick elevated canal passing along the temple grounds. They seem quite natural now (though perhaps an unexpected sight). One might almost expect to see the puffing steam train trails erupting from above... but alas only water flows on this structure.

This construction highlighted the speed with which Japan industrialised (from the feudal times of the Edo period that ended in the 1860's, and corresponded with the complete transferal of all power from Kyōto to Tokyo).  To meet the demands of this industrialisation, the city needed power, transport and irrigation. Thankfully, sense prevailed enough to be sensitive to the cultural heritage of the city at the same time, and avoid undue destruction of the city's temples. Japan's modern history is replete with examples where that environmental and cultural sensitivity was not so prominent.

It's been a while since we've seen my mystery wife... whilst she was putting on a brave (emoticon) face at this stage, she was definitely tired... as was I. It had been a hard day... T-chan...I even love your smiley face!

The canals were used for transport - Due to the height difference, boats needed to be towed up the mountain on a giant steel rail structure... known as the Biwako Incline which originally travelled for some 587m to allow the boats transit up/down the steepest sections of the canal. Some of this can still be seen as a memorial to this day (shown here thanks to Google Streetview). It's actually hard for me to imagine boats travelling through the canal tunnels... especially considering the distances of around 11km!
Google Streetview of Canal train that took boats up-hill.
It's not something that immediately stands out nowadays, but the city is actually criss-crossed with canals and waterways that were used as rapid transport routes in the developing city. The hydroelectric plant is still providing limited power to the city to this day, and the water continues to be used to provide drinking water for the city.

Waterways are the veins and arteries of many city... and in the case of Kyōto, they also add to the charm of what has otherwise become a highly concrete urban (and some might say ugly) environment.

It may not be as romantic as the clear waters of Kiyomizu Dera... but this was an important component in the re-generation of the city. One of the direct beneficiaries have been the cities gardens. Ogawa Jihei, the designer of the Heian Jingu gardens, as well as the Maruyama Kouen, was famous for using the waters from the canal as an important feature in his gardens. Thus as the city industrialised, it also reclaimed some of it's beauty. As we walked back to the bus to take back home, we paused by the canal, and were very thankful.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nanzen-ji - The Garden Temple

31st October, 2006 - A bit further on from Eikan-dō is the temple known as Nanzen-ji and it's associated gardens. Whilst the temple was first established around 1291, it remains a working Rinzai-Zen temple complex to this day. Nanzen-ji is known as the South Temple of Enlightenment.

It was initially on the site of an Imperial villa (built by Emperor Kameyama after having abdicated in 1274 due to the turbulent relationship with the Kamakura shogunate). There were two palaces constructed: an upper summer palace, and a lower winter palace. Unfortunately for the retired Emperor, retirement did not go smoothly... and indeed the villa suffered constant strife from a recalcitrant ghost. Apparently - the ghosts identity is lost with time, and I'm not sure if this was "Freddy" kind of strife, or more "Casper" kind of hijinx... either way it had to stop. The priest Fumon (from Tofuku-ji) was called in to exorcise the ghost, for which he was rewarded with the granting of the lower winter palace for religious services. Not bad work if you can get it... Indeed, I'm sure there was a healthy business in summoning (as well as exorcising) ghosts back in those days. From that point on, Kameyama became a devoted follower of Zen Buddhism.

The Hodo of Nanzen-ji

Only forty years later, the resultant temple Nanzen-ji had become of great importance - indeed, it was now annouced by Emperor Go-Daigo as sitting above the Five Mountains of Kyōto Buddhism: Tenryu-ji, Shokoku-ji, Kennin-ji, Tofuku-ji and Manju-ji. This was later supported by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was seeking leverage against the more established Buddhist temples of Kyōto and Nara.

One of the entrances to the study hall  used for special occasions, Taihougenkan
Such was the tension within the power structures of Kyōto that the temple was attacked by the infamous monks of Enryaku-ji in 1393 AD - these monks had played an important role in Kyōto's history... having often come down from their mountain temple to lay waste to temple and court alike over the centuries. The temple was destroyed again in 1447... and again in 1467 (during the Onin War)... to be rebuilt in 1597. The Japanese are definitely persistent.

Support for the temple was to continue all the way through until the Meiji Era, when the power of Buddhist schools was degraded by a Shinto-biased government.

The temple has one of the remaining great gates of Kyōto, the San-mon (also known as the Tenkanoryu-mon), which is one of the three largest remaining in Japan. This current gate dates from around 1628. Apparently the view from the second story balcony is quite good - but alas it wasn't open when we arrived. The gate is also famous for the tragic story of Iahikawa Goemon... an ill-fated bandit who had hidden within the gate itself. After one adventure (attempted assassination of Hideyoshi himself... or so one legend goes), he was caught and sentenced to death, along with his young son, in 1585. A horrible death - to be boiled alive in oil. This gruesome tale is the basis of kabuki plays, manga and for the movie released in 2009 under the name Goemon.

Approach to Nanzen-ji through the San-mon

Looking through the gate... from the outside

Looking through the gates... from the inside

There is a lot to see in and around Nanzen-ji... however, here I have to admit that we had  (and I groan to write these words) started to become templed out. Also, for me the attraction of Nanzen-ji is not the great gate, nor the history of the temples beginnings... but rather the gardens that accompany it. I should add here that there's a very good dry garden to be found in the temple - but we didn't get a chance to see it.

The gardens surrounding the temple are beautiful and a source of tranquility as the evening draws on and the crowds melt away with the growing of the shadows.

Garden paths outside the main temple 

An unlit stone lantern
The most impressive part, in my opinion is the sub-temple of Nanzen-in, and it's gardens. There is a separate charge to enter this sub-temple, but it's worth it. It's supposedly designated as one of three scenic and historic spots of Kyōto (according to the official web-site)... not sure what the other two are.
Nanzen-ji belfry on the hill

The temple itself started as the detached upper palace. The sub-temple was destroyed in the Onin war, and subsequently re-built around 1703. The surrounding garden was originally designed in 1300’s (and is credited to Muso Soseki) though the present garden layout most likely little resembles that original design.

It's not hard to realise just how close to nature the temple lies, lying well in truly in the lap of the Eastern mountains.

The ponds are the centre-piece of this garden - except in Autumn, when the golden maple display takes centre-stage. We just had to make do with slightly yellowing golden leaves.

Whilst the leaves may far from golden, we didn't feel at all disapointed.

Water is a hugely important part of Kyōto, as it is for the temple itself. We'll see in the next post just how much water has shaped this part of Kyōto.
One of the waterfalls that feeds the ponds

The path leads all the way around the ponds, allowing yourself to disappear into the if into the ancient wild-lands of Japan. I felt that if I just stayed still a little bit longer, roots would have sprung from my own feet.

Yet the cultured aspects of the garden are never far from view... and for all it's seeming wildness, the garden is  very much a constructed thing. The upper pond is known as the Songen-ike Pond, and is supposedly shaped like a dragon - and within it sits an island known as Horai-sima. The lower pond has an island in the shape of the Japanese character for heart, . I guess I'm not that abstract a thinker, as I never saw anything that looked particularly like either of those things.

Whilst the specific shapes of ponds and islands escaped me - the beauty of the garden did not. There was something wonderful about the light through the canopy, and the brilliantly clear, reed and lily covered waters. It may be a small garden, but it's one of my favourites... and has the added advantage of being little visited.

The Hojo  exhibits a number of styles, including: hinoki-zukuri (made from Japanese Cypress); irimoya-zukuri (a roof style where each side slopes down, and the two ends are faced with a gable as well); and kokera-buki (a roof consisting of a thin layer of cypress shingles). Through the veranda, a series of large tatami-floored rooms can be seen (but not entered).
The Hojo of Nazen-in - from the bridge across the ponds
Part of Emperor Kameyama's body has been interred in a small shrine within the Nanzen-in...thankfully not on public display. Seeing body bits has never really been a turn-on for me when it comes to holiday locations... well... dead body bits at least.

The veranda of the Hojo, with outlook to Kameyama's memorial
And this brings to an end our temple hopping in this journey through Kyōto... we only pop through one other temple on our way home.

It was definitely a great experience to have seen so much of the historical living treasure that are the temples and gardens of Kyōto. And whilst I know a lot of people have the view that "seen one temple, seen them all", I hope that I've been able to show that they're all beautiful and unique... and we had barely scratched the surface with the temples we had been able to visit.

It's important to remember that you don't need to go in with a huge understanding of either history or Buddhism (though it doesn't hurt) to enjoy visiting these temples. For me, they are the backbone of Kyōto  - an ironic twist on the fact that Buddhism was the very reason that Emperor Kammu relocated his capital from Nara - to escape the power of the Buddhist orders. Over twelve centuries later, it's hard to see what real power Buddhism has on Japan now, but perhaps the influence is as much ubiquitous as it is singular these days.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eikan-dō? Yokan-dō?... In Zenren-ji, we all can do!

31st October, 2006 - As you walk down the Philosopher's Path, you will come across Eikan-dō on the left, across the canal. This temple was dedicated to a monk by the name of Eikan (1033 – 1111 AD) - actually his name was Yokan Risshi, famous for his evangelistic Amidism (a form of Buddhism).

The temple was originally known as Zenrin-ji (and still is), or "Temple in a Calm Grove" and was founded in 856 AD by Shinjō, a disciple of Kūkai and the Shingon school of Buddhism. It shows how belief systems evolve over time from the highly esoteric (ritualised and somewhat impractical) form of Shingon Buddhism to the popularist form of Jodo-Shu, otherwise known as the Pure Land Buddhism. The difference here is that Jodo-Shu believed that the recitation of the Nembutsu (the words Namu Amida Butsu) was a path to release from the wheel of worldly re-birth - to be born in the Western Paradise. This is a modification of the Chinese Pure Land belief where the Nembutsu (Nianfo) was only seen as a single part of the mediation ritual... rather than an ends in itself. Eikan didn't come to the temple until around 1072 AD.

Ok - this ends Japanese Buddhism 101. Let's have a look around the temple.

The Chokushi-mon gate to the temple proper is no longer in use, but makes for a nice backdrop to the sand sculpture which is immaculately raked every day.
The Chokushi-mon

The sculpture is simple in design, especially compared ot the patterns seen in Honen-in, and Ginkaku-ji.

Actually - when I look at Google Maps (satellite view) , I don't see much evidence of this "raked sand sculpture" area in front of the gate, and I wonder if this has disapeared since we were here in 2006. I'd appreciate some comments from people that have been here recently to update me.

The temple was enlarged by Eikan (i.e. Yokan), and he also built a large hospital complex for the poor and destitute, along with the means of producing medicines, within the temple grounds. The temple itself was largely destroyed around 1477 AD, and was later rebuilt in the 1500’s and then restored again in the 1880’s. It is now a very good vantage point to enjoy the autumn colours.... alas we arrived about 3 weeks too early to enjoy these.

Yokan (Eikan) reputedly repeated the Nembutsu 60,000 times a day... however just a simple calculation would suggest that if he managed to repeat the Nembutsu every second, it would still take nearly 17 hours a day of continuous recitation to achieve this huge figure. It could be that this was a story that transformed into this unbelievable figure... the offical Eikan-dō website suggests he did this many times, but not necessarily all in one day. I guess we shouldn't maths get in the way of a good story.

Towards the back of the temple there are several paths leading up into the mountain-side.

Here's a photo of an unsuspecting schmuck.... that would me, walking up the stairs known as the Garyuro. It would have been a much nicer photo if I hadn't got my ugly mug in it.

At the top of the stairs you will find the Kaizan-dō - where the three founders are seated (er... images of the three founders). You will also find one of the more interesting offeratory collections that I've seen here. You definitely can't doubt the honesty of most of the people that come here... Actually, I didn't notice this until now... but if you quickly scroll up and down past this image, it has a very disturbing (i.e. interesting effect)... or is it just my eyes?...Perspective, it's a wonderful thing.

If you go up another path you get to a pagoda... just above this shrine. However, we were starting to get a little tired and when we found out we had to go all the way to the bottom, and then all the way back up the top; well - let's just say we decided that somethings were best left for the next trip.

The legend goes that on February 15, 1082 AD, one of the statues in the temple stepped down and rebuked the praying Yokan (aka Eikan) for dawdling - such was his amazement at this unexpected event. A statue now exists (known as Mikaeri-Amida) to honour this occasion - and is indeed one of the highlights of this temple. The statue of Amida is noted for it’s unusual posture of looking backwards, as if to suggest (as it did to Yokan that we should follow the lead of the Amida Buddha - and get a move on about it. Personally, I think if I had seen a statue get down off its stand and start telling me off, one of two things might have happened. (1) I would have gone out to the nearest pub and got drunk, or went crazy, or both, or (2) it would have been on for young and old and by that I mean fisticuffs at dawn (statues should, by and large, remain statuesque and keep their opinions to themselves).

I didn't get a photo of it... but if you're interested, you can pop over (here) to have a look. It is a very famous statue.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure about this story... hold on... they built a statue to commemorate another statue coming to life? My vote would be for seeing the original "coming-to-life" statue. Come to think of it... might have been more trouble than it was worth. "Roll-up ladies and gentlemen (replace with culturally suitable invitation)... come see our amazing living statue... er... well, it was over there just a minute ago...has anyone seen where our statue went... er... anyone... nice statue...

The gardens of Eikan-dō are quite nice - and extensive. There's a series of inner gardens and larger outer gardens. The inner gardens are immersive, with the temple buildings floating above a quiet, serene and very green blanket.

The outer gardens are a little more brash. Perhaps a product of the golden leaves (yet to appear at this time). Certainly it's much more a stroll garden and can keep you occupied for some time.

Water plays an important part in the design and heart of this garden... as is often the case in Japanese temple gardens.

Now I'm starting to feel a bit like where's Wally (if you're Australian or English)... or Waldo if you're American... or Wōrī if you're Japanese. Needless to say, I don't think I'd last long in a hide-and-seek competition.
Bridge to Benten-shima - small island with shrine to Benten

The gardens surround the large Hojo-no-ike (Abott's pond), and must make for quite a sight during the height of the golden leaves weeks. We enjoyed the few trees that had started to turn early.

T-chan takes a stroll in the gardens of Zenrin-ji... Hey, not going to turn around for us?

Here's another great photo of T-chan... that's her on the left (on the bridge). How good are your eyes?

The temple is deceptive... it doesn't feel that big, but when you see it on a map (here) you get to appreciate just how big it is... big enough to run it's own kindergarten and library. Nowadays, it is golden leaves and living statues that dominate the visitors minds. It's easy to forget just how important temples have been in the fabric of Japanese society over the millenia - often forming the backbone of social support for the poorer communities. I have to admit, I often wonder if we haven't turned them into Buddhist theme parks... and I often wonder what the likes of Yokan (or is that Eikan) would think of it all...
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Philosopher's Path - Thinking AND Sight-seeing. Perfect

31st October, 2006 - I was going to throw up a quick post on the Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku no Michi). The walk is synonymous with the philosopher, Nishida Kitarō (1870 – 1945 AD), being reportedly the path taken for his daily walk. Now who was he, that it really mattered where he walked? He was born in 1870, and graduated from Tokyo University in 1894... and went on to become the Professor of the Philiosophy department in the Kyōto University. Indeed he became synonymous with the Kyōto school of philosophy, and one of the most influential people in the founding of modern Japanese Philosophy.

Being born following the Meiji Restoration, he had the luxury to explore cultural and philosophical conjunctions (and exclusions) of eastern and western thought. He pursued the contradictions of opposites, and the ensuing tension that he observed; seeking to explore the meaning of nothingness in terms of the self... Hmmmm, heavy going.

It is also interesting that his openess to consider western logical constructs had essentially marked him as a dangerous subversive in the years leading up to WWII; then following the war he was considered a right-wing nationalist. He died however, just before WWII was to come to an end, in June 1945. You just can't satisfy all of the people all of the time....

Despite the complex, and to some extent contreversial history of Nishida Kitarō, the path that now remembers him is a convenient and pleasant means of walking the foothills of the Higashiyama mountains between Ginkaku-ji and the more southern temples of Eikandō and Nanzen-ji. It follows the canal that runs along the boundary of urban Kyōto and the eastern mountains.

The path taken is shown below... it takes about 20-30 mins to walk if you don't stop alone the way... but that hardly seems worthwhile... There's so much to see along the way, and I'm sure as Kitarō found, it's better to enjoy the journey than worry about the destination. It was a great afternoon's walk for us, and one that was made perfect by the quick diversions to look at some of Kyōto's beautiful smaller temples (though this is perhaps best seen in the Autumn month of November).

View Larger Map

As you can see, it's relatively convenient to return to Heian Jingu..

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hōnen-in - Inhale...Pause...Exhale...Smile

31st October, 2006 - Not far south of Ginkakuji, is the well-worn walking track known as the  Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no Michi)... the subject of my next post. However, on that path are a number small temples that are well worth popping into. The first of these, and one that was quite a surprise was Hōnen-in.

Sanmon gate to Hōnen-in

Dedicated to the monk Hōnen, of the Pure Land (Jōdo) sect fame. Along with his two disciples, Anraku and Juren, he constructed an image of the Amida on the Higashiyama foothills, on Nyoigatake. As mentioned in relationship with Chion-in, Hōnen gave up the Tendai teachings of Hiei-zan for the nembutsu teachings of the Jōdo school of Amidism. 

The temple has two sand sculptures, with ever changing designs. The temple itself has no amazing buildings (maybe a little harsh), nor any particularly exciting art - or for that matter, no must-see ceremonies either. Indeed it's garden is rather subdued - and it's perhaps for this very reason that I'd definitely recommend going to see this temple. There's something about this simplicity and beauty of the garden that, like Ginkakuji, can allow your soul to pause. To reflect.

One of my favourite moments was when we came across this small fountain, a focal point in the garden - but nothing ostentatious in itself.

It was only as we drew closer that we noticed the detail of the carefully placed leaf, that acted as a spout for the running water. It's may not make it on anyone's top 10 memorable moments, but it certainly gave our hearts a moment of zen-like joy that we still remember. It's a place where time seem to slow down, and where a moment can last a lifetime. Breathe.

The other thing about the temple grounds is the small, but inviting pond around which you walk to approach the main temple buildings. There is a stillness in the air - made more special for the fact that this temple sees comparatively few tourists. You can selfishly enjoy all the sweetness of the air, the whispering of the breeze in the trees and light playing amongst the leaves largely by yourself.

It was Hōnen's two disciples, Anraku and Juren, that erected the first memorial here, with a statue of the Amida Buddha attributed to Genshin.

This statue is now held in the inner sanctum of the Hondo. Such was the antagonism between the Jōdo and Tendai schools that not long after the death of Hōnen, the site was almost completely destroyed by monks from Enryaku-ji temple. With the subsequent (though unrelated) destruction of Enryaku-ji by Oda Nobunaga, and with the later rise of the Tokugawa shoguns, the power of the sect of Hōnen once again gathered strength.  The present temple complex was built around 1680, and features a number of rooms moved from Fushimi-jo (after Hideyoshi’s death) to attach to the Hondo.

As with the statue of the Amida, there also lies a shrine to Jizo, cut into the hillside (below) - this one dates to the late 17th century. It was not uncommon for the followers of the Amida Buddha to have shrines to Jizo as well.

The temple buildings nestle in the foot-hills, amongst the trees. Neither imposing their will upon the natural surround, nor succumbing to it. There's a nice balance to the temple design.

So with that we bid farewell to Hōnen-in... Whilst it may not be somewhere that you'd intentionally put on any itinerary of Kyōto purely for itself, IMO it does make a brilliant side-trip to mark the start of the Philosopher's Walk and well worth the extra walk for.

To the south of the Hōnen-in lies the temple graveyard, before passing Anraku-ji, dedicated to one of Hōnen’s disciples.
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