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|
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 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|
|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.
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 forest...as 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.
|The Hojo of Nazen-in - from the bridge across the ponds|
|The veranda of the Hojo, with outlook to Kameyama's memorial|
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.