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.

No comments: