Soul of the Garden

Images of Japan: Daitoku-ji, Kyoto

The Daitoku-ji complex in northern Kyoto consists of 24 temples several of which are open to visitors. Founded in 1319, it is one of the prominent homes of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Daitoku-ji is most famous for the exquisite Daisen-in subtemple, with its meticulous interpretation or recreation of a classical Chinese landscape painting in its small garden spaces. Unfortunately for me, or at least for my photographic obsession, photography is not allowed within the inner courtyards of Daisen-in. My understanding is that things were getting out of hand with competitive photographers ruining the experience for garden pilgrims. The result of the photo-ban is that Daisen-in appears to have fallen out of favor with the tour groups. When we visited we enjoyed the company of the Buddhist priest who helps maintain the garden (and speaks English) and one or two other visitors. Daisen-in is one of the great gardens of the world and every true gardener who visits Kyoto should go. (There are a few images of the exterior of Daisen-in below. )       

 Ryogen-in, another of the Daitoku-ji subtemples, is just a short walk from Daisen-in and is home to a peaceful series of moss and stone gardens. Here, I was able to take most of the photographs you'll find below.


Just outside of the gates of Daisen-in, a dramatically pruned pine tree beckons.


Near the entrance of Daisen-in you can spot this even more dramatic pine in the courtyard of another subtemple.


A typical garden pathway. Note the confluence of the sharp turn with the trained (and supported) pine branch.


"Please do not take this path." At the entry of a monk's personal garden space.


A wide view of one of the spaces surrounding Ryogen-in.


One of the five moss and stone gardens of Ryogen-in. Very bold, yet calm.


The moss "island" here seems to be in the classic "turtle" shape that is an important motif in Chinese and Japanese gardens.


A border detail... a frame within a frame within a frame.


A little bit of grass for texture.


Beautiful stones.


Particularly beautiful stones, trees, or places in nature were seen as holy in the Shinto faith. This feeling of reverence for the particular is also expressed in Buddhism.


A wide view.


The moss garden on the opposite side of  Ryogen-in.


A detail of the moss garden.


A well in a passageway between gardens.


A detail from another of the "dry gardens" of Ryogen-in.


A small water basin with pebble "waves" lapping at its edge.


A pruned cryptomeria and wall detail.


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