Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Where to go in Kyoto III
The Ryoan-ji in Kyoto is the most famous rock-and-sand garden in the world, and as a result it is usually mobbed with tourists. (The first time I saw it, in the mid-1950s, I was able to sit on the veranda for an hour virtually undisturbed by another person; those days are long gone.)
The Ryoan-ji, however, is not the only rock-and-sand garden in Kyoto. The Zuiho-ji has a number of such gardens...and I have never found it crowded with tourists.
A daimyo (feudal lord), Sorin Otomo (1467-1568), founded the Zuiho-ji as a family temple in 1535. Otomo was the family name; he took the name Sorin when he became a lay Buddhist monk in 1562.
Otomo inherited the domain of Funai, on Kyūshū, from his father. Over twenty years of warfare and rebellion, he unified much of Kyūshū under his control and secured a significant gain in his clan's power and prestige, Otomo is significant as one of the daimyo to meet personally with the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1551, one of the first Europeans in Japan. Though Otomo converted to Christianity 1562 (the same year he became a Buddhist monk), he probably saw this as a politically strategic move and was not religiously motivated. Jesuit records refer to Otomo as the "King of Bungo" (one of the Kyushu fiefs). He sent political delegations to Goa in the 1550s, and the Tenshō embassy to Rome in 1582.
The Zuiho-in is a sub-temple of the main temple of Daitoku-ji, a major Zen temple located in northern Kyoto. The focus of the Zuiho-ji is its rock garden. The main garden is a combination of moss and rocks and an acclaimed example of a dry landscape garden-karesansui. Behind the main hall is the Garden of the Cross (with rocks laid out to form a cross). There is also a Tea house Ansho-ken within the precincts.
My picture does not do the temple or the gardens justice, but there are many exquisite photos of the temple at this site. The Zuiho-ji is one of Kyoto's hidden gems.