KYOTO / SAGANO (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 14)
Engulfed in rich heritage of material culture and ancient architecture, this capital of authentic Japanese culture and historical treasure is a place where nature’s seasonal changes resonate like nowhere else. Check out our special cross section – a glimpse into a vast history and extensive culture that can only be Kyoto. And pause for a moment in time for meditation that only Kyoto in the winter can bring.
Winter at Sagano
Togetsukyo is a pathway leading through a bamboo forest that brings back memories of a scene from the old capital, Kyoto. Here in Arashiyama is Kyoto in it’s full magnitude. This area is known as a hot spot to range through. Walking the trail lined with numerous temple and shrine, this is a place you’ll want to enjoy a leisurely walk the entire day. Souvenir shops, cafes, and fancy Japanese restaurants come together in mix of old and new. They line the walk as well. And this is scenery that can only be taken in at Arashiyama.
In complete contrast to roving through a lively town or cityscape is the journey to this peaceful, quiet place where mountain country sprawls out in front of your eyes. This bamboo forest snowscape has historic value. This is Sagano of feastive four seasons that brings cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn foliage. This is the time of season to savor the beauty only present in the winter.
Togetsukyo as Our Trailhead
Just a few minutes walk from either Hankyu or Keifuku Arashiyama Station. Arashiyama Mountain dominates as the common backdrop of this Togetsukyo landscape. Spring blossoms and the lush mountains of green in the summer, then fall with its brilliant crimson foliage, it is loaded with things to see in the scenery from season to season. This is the symbol of Arashiyama. Winter at Togetsukyo brings an air finely frozen in strained silence. In a rigid translation, Togetsukyo means ‘bridge of the crossing moon.’ This name derives from the way the railing of the bridge resembles the arching motion of the passing sky moon.
The road stretching north from Togetsukyo is the main street of Arashiyama. Souvenir shops and eateries neighbor up, lining either side of the road. They stay full of life all year round. Yojiya, famous for aburatori-gami just reopened a shop with a cafe on its premises. Be sure to stop by here for some souvenirs and a tea break.
The gates of Tenryuji Temple appear after a short walk from Misora Hibari Hall.
This is a temple raised in the second year of the Ryokuo Era (1339) by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji to calm the spirit of the then late Emperor Godaigo, an enemy of the Shogun. Because it was subject to the flames of war many times thereafter, the building seen today is a rebuild from the Meiji Era. Only its garden, Sogenchi, created by Muso Soseki, is in its original condition at the face of the temple, and draws on the ancient scenery like a memory of ancient time. It is famed as one of the greatest examples of karesansui style gardens. Arashiyama borrows elements from a natural landscape to blend artificial elements in with surroundings. The lake is arranged to accommodate the pleasures of coming and goings of each season’s flowers and foliage. This technique of borrowing real landscape elements is known as shakkei. It makes a tight space seem larger. With its magnificent beauty – a picture worth more than a thousand words – it is registered with the World Cultural Heritage as an important cultural property. In the corridor, sit and gaze at Sougenchi Lake as it stretches out in front of you, at the back of the lake are high hills, and farther back is Arashiyama peaking through to compose an exquisite scene.
Following the path meandering through the garden, and climbing atop the hills brings Higashiyama into view.
A Walkway Through Bamboo Forests
Turn left and continue from Nonomiya bus stop north of Tenryu-ji. The illusion of this serene bamboo forest will have you forget the bustle of the city – a scene often seen on Japanese dramas and TV commercials. Slowly stroll starting from the north end of Tenryu-ji Temple. Pass Nonomiya Jinja Shrine, and cross over JR San-in Honsen Line – the glorious atmosphere persists. Proceeding west, just before Nonomiya Jinja Shrine, the bamboo forest forms a belt in the direction of Okouchi-Sanso Villa Tram Station.
Nonomiya Jinja Shrine
Nonomiya was originally the residencey of the chosen princess of Ise-jingu Shrine – a place for her to stay for purification and blessing. “The Tale of Genji” also made its first appearance at this temple, but the main attraction is the torii of black wood (shrine gate at the entrance), carpeted with a layer of moss. This shrine is famous for the god of matchmaking that is said to dwell here. In the forest’s still silence, this is a shrine filled with an air of refinement.
This is the holiday house of historical play actor, Denjiro Okouchi. It is plotted on the rolling terrain of Oguryama Mountain, with a total of 30 years spent in its construction, that covers an area of about 6,000 tsubo (over 19 square kilometers). Wooded with cherry, maple, and pine it is painted with the joyous blossoms and picturesque beauty of each seasonal occurrence. After entering the garden, attend the garden’s teahouse to refresh with some complimentary tea and cakes.
Going along the shores of Oguraike Lake from Okouchi Sanso Villa will have you at Jojakko-ji Temple in no time. It is a famous Nichirenshu Sect temple that stands sheltered in Ogurayama Mountain. Ogurayama with its displays of picture perfect crimson foliage, have given it nationwide fame as a hot spot for enjoying fall scenery. The stone stairway extending from within Niomon Gate is engulfed with a mass planting and solid mosaic of maple, giving the distinct impression that you are literally walking in a tunnel of autumn’s firey red delight. The Palace of Fushimi Momoyama-jo Castle was transferred to the inside of the temple’s main hall. Continue climbing to gaze at the entire Sagano area through Taho-to Tower. This temple and lodge is also famous for the fact that Fujiwara Teika layed it down.
Going to Rakuishisha, follow the signposts carefully, and you won’t get lost. Haiku poet and pupil of Master Basho, Mukai Kyorai’s monastary leaves the atmosphere of the ancient time they lived in.
Nison-in is about a three-minute walk North from Rakushisha. This Tendai denomination Sanmonha Buddhist temple is said to have begun when the Showa Era (834-848, the other Showa Era) Emperor Saga ordered Jikaku Daishi to its erection. Noted as a spot for autumn leaves – gorgeous crimson foliage flood your mind. They are found lining its path extending inward through its large outer gate. It is also known for its spring cherry blossoms – certainly a place you will want to visit with the changes each new season brings. The main hall, a creation of the late Heian Era, is designated an important national cultural property. The image of Buddha/ Amitabha Tathagata is enshrined here.
Travel north from Nison-in. Gio-ji Temple is associated with the area of Ama Temple in “The Tale of Heike.”After losing Tairano Kiyomori’s favor, the nun Gio spent the rest of her life there. The temple’s grounds are surrounded with maples, wrapped in a scenery of peace and emotion. The garden is blanketed with moss covering and scattered autumn leaves, then, by a layer of snowfall to transform into a world of such beauty – a beauty that cannot be described with words.
Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple
Now set your direction Northwest. The hill you’ll climb to get there is full of souvenir and craft-type shops. You can have a typical Kyoto lunch of yudofu (boiled tofu) at restaurants with classical essence. These Northeastern foothills of Ogurayama Mountain called Adashino in ancient times, is known to be a place of open graves (from when they let bodies be exposed to the elements rather than modern burial or crematory procedures). Kobo Daishi built Nyorai-ji (Tathagata) Temple as a dedication to the scattered souls of those who died with no one to attend their graves. About 8,000 stone Buddha statues and towers overwhelm its premises. It’s quite a world of its own – like a different dimension. The sloping path in front of Nenbutsu-ji Temple is a path that continues on to Atagoyama Mountain. Beyond the old townscape of Saga Toriimoto, traditional Japanese style restaurants with thatched roofing stand one after the next. After a pit stop at any one of these elegant storefronts, set out for Seiryo-ji and Daikaku-ji Temples, heading back the way we came.
The Temple in “The Tale of Genji,” Sagashakado Hall enshrines the image of the Shakyamuni Buddha robed in beautifully represented, flowing cloth that falls across his body in a technique known as Seiryo-ji-shiki. For added amusement, after paying respects at Seiryo-ji, stop by the neighboring Saga tofu vendor, the old establishment Morika, to stock up on some tofu and abura-age tofu souvenirs.
Located Northeast of Sagano is Daikaku-ji. In 876 AD, this then detatched palace of Emperor Saga was reformed into a temple by the residing princess to become Daikaku-ji sect of Shingon Buddhism’s main temple. Therefor, it is also known as Saga Gosho (Imperial Palace). During the Nanbokucho Era it served as the Imperial Palace, and so it shows up frequently in the pages of history. The banks of the Osawa-no-ike pond is an important point of this building of distinct quality, and the painted sliding doors of Sanraku Kano and Shiko Watanabe. It goes without saying that these banks are lined with colorful red maples, and cherry blossoms and all the colors of the changing seasons; mid-autumn draws people from all over as they pack in to view the moon.
Note Tidbits to Journey through Sagano
A kind of landscaping, involving the intentional integration of a mountain or other natural element in a garden’s background, to create the feeling of distance. With shakkei, a garden confined to a tight space can be made to look and feel huge and distant.
A Rinzai Sect high preist, successful from the late Kamakura Era to the start of the Muromachi Era, who converted such people as Ashikaga Takauji, and Emperor Godaigo. (also Muso Kokushi 1275~1351). An Imperial subject of Emperor Godaigo and resident of Nanzenji Temple (1325 AD), who later, while residing in both Jochi-ji Temple and Enkaku-ji Temple in Kamakura, erected Zuisenji Temple. After converting Ashikaga Takauji and Tadayoshi, he gave rise to Saiho-ji Temple. The shogunate recognized and gave safe clearance to Musoism as Muso provided a base for its religious institution to flourish and prosper. He loved the beauty of nature, took care of gardens, and greatly influenced the development of Zen gardens.
A garden that rose from Zen. Established with carefully placed rocks, and white sand to the flow of sea or waterfall, this is a kind of rock gardening that is nature on a smaller scale. Whereas the gardening seen in chisen style, differs from karesansui’s attention to the caprice of nature. Karesansui is, instead, attatched to the discipline of Zen Buddhism.
“The Tale of Genji”
An epic in Japan’s world-class book of classical literature (Koten). In the same period, we see other literary works like Seisho Nagon’s “Makura no Soshi.” Genji’s author is Murasaki Shikibu; the time was the early 11th century. Set in the reign of Heian Era Emperor Ichijo, this story narrates a ravishing prince, the odyssey of Hikaru Genji, and different kinds of lives that women of the day lived.
Garden scenery that promotes landscape appreciation to those walking its paths. Gardens labeled as kaiyu-shiki were created for Kamakura and Edo Era nobles, and feudal lords, to show off riches and dominance, while enjoying an artistic life.
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
A haiku poet, from Iganokuni. Known as the first great poet in haiku history. Began a travel from the Northeast journeying down to other states, and died in Osaka while setting out for Kyushu.
Tairano Kiyomori (1118-1181)
A feudal warlord in the late Heian Era. The grand minister of state. The head of the Hei (or Taira) family. In 1159 Kiyomori took down Minamotono Yoshitomo. Then after he and his militia took the kingdom to rise to great power, Taira family devised a plan to marry into the Imperial family. He ended up becoming a relative to Emperor Antoku, and rose to tremendous power.
Shakyamuni/ (Nyorai) Buddha
Another name for Buddha. The buddha that had awakened to this world, and his attainment of enlightenment.