Monday, July 1, 2013

Rock, Sand, and Moss Gardens

Zen Rock Garden, Ryoan-ji, Kyoto
Note: to see the raked designs more clearly, click on the individual photo.
One of the delights of touring in Japan is to visit the gardens on temple and shrine grounds. They reflect the philosophies of the various Buddhist and Shinto sects, the visions of the designers, and the patience and perseverance of the monks. The first set of photos are of the most famous Zen rock garden in Japan, Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, laid out in the 15th century. There are 15 rocks set in waves of raked white pebbles, surrounded on three sides by clay walls and on the fourth a wooden veranda.

In spite of all the tourists visiting these sites and taking photos, it is possible to sit on verandas or other viewing platforms and contemplate what the the garden designer was attempting to communicate. The individuals responsible for the maintenance of these gardens leave no footprints, keep the setting serene.

View from the veranda at Ryoan-ji.

Close-up of large rock at Ryoan-ji

Nanzen-ji Temple is a Rinzai Zen temple set in a grove of cedars . It was founded in 1239. 
Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto

Sand cone at Nanzen-ji

Small side garden, Nanzen-ji

Big rock, Nanzen-ji

Entrance to Komyozen-ji temple

Rocks laid out as character for 'light'

Moss garden at the rear of Komyozen-ji temple

Play of light on moss and sand garden
The changing angles of light during the course of a day, whether there are clouds drifting by, or rain coming down, how these textures and shapes are seen and experienced is always new and different. It was a marvel that the sharp sides of the cone at Nanzen-ji never seemed to collapse or loose grains of sand. How do those monks do that?! How often must the sides be smoothed down? Do they dampen the sand first?

There are three reasons to visit Dazaifu in the Fukuoka/Hakata area of Japan. The first is the Kyushu National Museum; the second is the Tenmangu Shrine and Museum, the third is the Komyozen-ji Temple. The gardens from the latter are featured in this post. The temple was completely uninfested with tourists! The
temple was founded in the middle of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) by a disciple of the founder of Kyoto's Tofukuji Temple and belopngs to the Tofukuji school of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Both the rock and the moss gardens are some of the best we saw. The rock garden is at the entrance to the temple. The fifteen rocks form the Japanese character for 'light'. The rear garden, of moss and rock, is laid out to represent large bodies of land and water. The play of light through the trees was magical. During the autumn season, the changing colours of the maples are apparently stunning.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kawara: Japanese Roof Tiles

Our trip to Japan in May 2013 had many highlights. I will be doing a series of posts around themes of interest to me: many of these themes were a complete surprise. The first of these was the magnificent art and craft of roof tiles, called kawara. The purpose of Japanese roof tiles is to prevent evil from coming into the home, temple, castle. The origin of Japanese kawara was brought from China via Korea in the late 6th century with the arrival of Buddhism. It is thought that the oldest kawara were used in Asuka Temple in Nara Prefecture (south of Kyoto). These tiles were made under the direction of four tile craftsmen sent from the southwestern Korean kingdom. At that time, Japan's political center was in Nara and the court officers were determined to rule the nation with the power of Buddhism. Kawara have evolved from being traditional roofing material to being waterproof, having unique designs, and remarkable durability.
Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Some very old temples keep kawara from different time periods on a single roof and the tiles can range in age from 100 to three hundred years old. Recently, new features have been added that include a fixed structure to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, and heat-insulation capabilities based on the way they reflect sunlight.
The shrine on the left, Hachimangu Shrine, is one of the oldest in Kamakura and is an example of how the tiles are laid and the various types. An example of a modern roof is seen in a school/temple complex, also in Kamakura (below). There is a wide range of tile designs with a variety of symbols, meanings, and  types of protective capabilities. These include the sun (gives energy to the home), moon (protect and purify the home), star (power to make wishes come true), symbol of a king (wealth and honor), "magical mallet" (symbol of wealth), shoki (an ancient Chinese guardian), Buddhist sutra (intelligence and peace), lotus flower (purity and life), drawstring bag (brings money into the home), water (wards off fire), dragon (prosperity and success in business),and five-color cloud (five happinesses of life: intelligence, longevity,financial wealth, health, and having a fruitful life and natural death).

The photo, below, of Nijo Castle, built in 1603, shows end tiles, finials, and regular roof tiles.  The next series of photos will be close-ups of tiles in various locations.
Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Daisho-in temple, Miyajima

Sumiyoshi shrine, Fukuoka
shrine, Dazaifu
interesting finial
Kofukuji, Nara
Shrine, Kyoto

Kofukuji, Nara
close-up of roof tiles, Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Friday, April 5, 2013


                                                    Spring is Here
                                                    Bees busy
                                                    Seemingly effortless
                                                    Magic and mystery is afoot
                                                    Thoughts of Ariel, always Here

Friday, March 29, 2013

Another Good Book

Burnt ShadowsBurnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A remarkable book. A remarkable writer. Kamila Shamsie has managed to weave a story beginning in Nagasaki 1945 to Delhi 1949 to Pakistan to New York and Afghanistan 2001. Her characters are a wonderful assortment. Missteps, misreadings of situations and people, the closing in of world events on the lives of ordinary people and how people cope with the fallout and outcomes: the gentleness, subtlety, and respect she demonstrates for the people, situations, and places she explores easily confirms her skill in her craft.

Monday, February 25, 2013

South Africa: good news and bad

The bad news first. In the wake of Oscar Pistorius' killing of his girlfriend, there has been much discussion of misogyny and the culture of violence toward women in South Africa.  Read the opinion piece in the New York Times on 20 February, 2013 by Eusibius McKaiser. The Mail & Guardian has further commentary here.

Now the good news. Mampehle Ramphele recently announced that she is forming a new political party, Agang, to be launched in early June. An interview with her can be found here. Perhaps an effective opposition to the ANC can finally emerge. An open letter to Dr. Ramphele asks all the right questions and raises all those prickly issues no one really wants to face. That letter is at this link.

The winner of the documentary film category at last night's Academy Awards was Searching for Sugar Man. This is the story of a musician from Detroit, Sixto Rodriguez, who was never well known outside of the taverns he played, except in South Africa. Unbeknownst to him, a huge fan-base evolved and two people set out to find him, bring him to South Africa, and perhaps help get the royalties due to him.