Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kennin-ji... The Last (Sad) Hurrah

1st November, 2006 - Stepping from the Gion Odori, we had a feeling of joy and fulfillment. Could there have been any better way to end our trip to Kyōto? The answer was probably no. Still, we had one last opportunity to step back into Olde Kyōto on the way back to our apartment.

That temple was Kennin-ji, of the Rinzai Zen sect.

It's definitely not on the top 10 list of sights in Kyōto, however it was in fact the oldest (er... that means first) Zen temple to be established in Japan; initiated by the monk Eisai (Yousai) in 1202 AD. After returning to Japan in 1197, and having started teaching the way of the Zen, he was invited to establish a temple by the shogun Minamoto no Yoriie during the Kamakura period.

It’s emphasis on discipline was particularly attractive to the military thinking of the samurai of the Kamakura period. It was one of the few temples to have survived the Onin Wars (around 1477 AD), however was then all but destroyed in a separate uprising in 1556.
The Dharma Hall (Hattou)

 One thing that gets lost these days is just how young many of the founders of Japan were... Eisai was all of fourteen years of age when he was ordained a priest. When I was that young, I was largely worried about how to get through high school - and playing computer games...

The grounds are pleasant, but not necessarily impressive... one of the things that's a little interesting is the small dry garden (not shown) known as.... well...... huh? What ya talkin' about? Apparently this is the sort of crazy hijinx that Zen monks get up to (when not playing computer games)... the idea is that all forms in the world can apparently be constructed from these basic blocks. Actually... now that I think about it... if they only added an X, then we'd get a good advert for the Sony Playstation (maybe there's something in this computer game thing after all). This design was based on the untitled artwork of Zen artist, Sengai Gibon.

The temple itself is fairly enjoyable, but after two weeks of seeing some truly amazing temples and gardens I found it hard to get too excited... but if you're walking in the area, it's worth popping in and having a look around.
The Sanmon...The temple's main gate.

If you're in the area, and you've got the time (which we didn't) then pop in to see Hokan-ji, Yasaka's Pagoda, it's just a bit up the hill, and easy to see from many of the side streets.
Yasaka no To (Hokan-ji)

So, our last moments in Kyōto were spent, like much of it, walking through the streets of history. The Gion Odori may have been the cream-on-top of our trip so far, and like such feasts, what comes after can be a bit of a let down. And there was a feeling of sadness that had come into our hearts (end of holiday grief perhaps). Still, it had been a great (and busy) day - and we were leaving Kyōto - 12 days after arriving - with a rich memory of events, places, traditions and history that continues to bring us enjoyment through the years. It will also forever be linked to the pregnancy of our first son, L-kun.

If you haven't been to Japan before and you're wondering if its worth spending much time in Kyōto, then I hope that these posts have given you a bit of a feel for the sorts of things that you might experience (good and bad)... both the well trodden paths, and the more obscure sights (and sites). I know that many would wonder in disbelief as to why we would have spent so much time in Kyōto... and it's almost certainly not the sort of thing that most tourists coming to the city can even do. For me however, there remains so much more to see and do in this capital of "peace and tranquility".

I can't wait to return.
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