• Sofias Country Gardens

Ginkaku-ji temple in Kyoto


In the beginning of October I hade the pleasure of visiting Ginkaku-ji or Temple of the Silver Pavillion (also known as Jisho-Ji or Temple of Shining Mercy) in Kyoto, Japan. It lies beautifully embedded in a famous Japanese garden that is well known for its long history, having originally been created in the late 13th century by Ashikaga Yoshimasa after his retirement from the shogunate.

The rock garden is supposedly designed by Söami (who died in 1925) as he was in the service of the Yoshimasa, but this is not reliably verified although it is mentioned in texts a century later. Söami was a famous landscape artist and painter, who counts as one of the best ink painters at the time. Although Yoshimasa later in life became a monk, the garden was designed primarily for relaxation and aesthetic enjoyment rather than for zazen, the practised of seated meditation in relatively small enclosed gravel or rock gardens. Here at Ginkaku-ji the gravel gardens are bigger and harmonise with the surrounding landscape. They say that some of the pines and rocks were transported from Yoshimasas former homes that had been devastated by civil war, and looking at it one wouldn't be surprised if this was true. The carefully formed mound of sand is perhaps it's most distinct feature, representing Mount Fuji.

The larger part of the garden is related to its surroundings, with a forested hill in the background and beautiful ponds and small islands with rock formations. Walking into the rest of the garden, it is a harmonious landscape of moss and stone, varying deciduous and coniferous trees and beautifully formed pines. As I walked through it, I realised that I need to come back again simply to see all the azaleas, rhododendrons and cherry trees in bloom... This time of the year though, it was the perfect epitome of a green Japanese garden evoking ancient times and spirits of the ancestors.

It is not only gravel, water and stones that are fundamental features in the Japanese gardens, but also the use of moss, and I marvelled at the well curated areas in the garden. Just as I was wondering how they do it, I saw a man kneeling in an area and gently picking out grass and sweeping up fallen leaves with a soft brush, leaven a perfect green moss carpet in his wake. The most dreamy part of the garden was of course the wishing well, where thousands of shiny coins glittered under water in the late sunshine. I threw a coin and made a wish too, and you never know if it comes true.

A path leads to the top of the hill, where Kyoto is visible and audible in the distance. Back in the Shogunate Yoshimasa's days there was a ferocious civil war raging and Kyoto was a battle field. The noise levels are probably still much the same at times and clearly noticeable on the top of the hill, but down in the garden regins calmness supreme. Since Yoshimasa's death, Ginkaku-ji Temple and gardens has been a holy place, and well worth its place on my bucket list. (Check!)


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