We took the cute little Randen Train from Omura Ninnaji to Arashiyama. Though still in Kyoto, Arashiyama feels like a town all on its own and so far away from all the rest of the city.
We began our walk down main street towards the Togetsu-kyo Bridge which spans a wide river which changes name at the bridge. Upstream it is Oi-gawa and downstream it is known as Katsura-gawa. The name of the bridge means moon crossing and legend has it that when Emperor Kameyama, who ruled during the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), went boating on the river under a full moon, he found that the moon looked like crossing the bridge. The present bridge was built in 1934, and while it looks like a wooden bridge, it is in fact enforced with concrete pillars.
The view over the Ōi River is beautiful and with the mountain Arashiyama as a magnificent backdrop. The area takes up its name from that very mountain which means Storm Mountain and which today houses a monkey park. But seeing as we were running a bit late we skipped our visit to the see wild monkeys, and made our way towards the first amongst Kyoto’s Five Mountains of Zen: Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryū Shiseizen-ji lies on the main road of Arashiyama and not a stone-throw from Togetsu-kyo Bridge, but we still managed to get lost as we attempted to take a back road from a side street of the Ōi River.
It lies at the spot of Japan’s first Zen temple, Danrin-ji which was founded by Empress Tachibana no Kachiko (786-850) sometime in the ninth century. As such the place has a special meaning in Zen Buddhism.
For a period following the disrepair of Danrin-ji the place was used by emperors as a detached palace and residence. The last emperor to use it was Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339), and it was in his memory that the shogun Ashikaga Takauji established Tenryū-ji in 1339. He paid for the construction of the temple by two successful trading missions to China, and it was officially consecrated in 1345.
Since the beginning, Tenryū-ji has been ravaged and destroyed by fire eight times, one of these was during the Ōnin Wars. The last fire was in 1864 only four years prior to the Meiji Restoration. As the temple was undergoing rebuilding, the Meiji government confiscated most of the temple grounds, leaving it with only a tenth of its past land mass. Yet, the temple survived and was gradually rebuild throughout the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The last step towards the temple we see today was made in 1934.
I am beginning to establish a self-made order to the many temples I’ve seen in Japan and particularly in Kyoto. Some of them are dusty, placed in between roads with large magnificent buildings, yet not much greenery around such as To-ji, but also Tōdai-ji temple in Nara. Others are hidden in the woods like the small but beautiful Honen-in, and the large infamous Kiyomizu-dera. Two extremes – one where man prevails and one where nature is the dominant party.
Then there are those as Ryōan-ji but also Rokuen-ji and Higashiyama Jishō-ji with their gold and silver pavilions, respectively. Temples placed at the centre of beautifully laid out natural surrounding gardens, which resemble parks.
However, my favourite are those where the gardens are a natural extension of the temple buildings. The small Ryogen-ji temple where the main halls continue into the Zen gardens and even the small space between the halls has become a small, but symbolic piece of cosmos: Totekiko. To a similar but much larger degree, both the majestic Nanzen-ji in Northern Hirashiyama and now magnificent Tenryū-ji in Arashiyama have large and beautiful white halls which shine under the blue summer sky, with moss green gardens lapping at their feet. Walking around all three is a journey of discovery, where around every corner the scenery takes your breath away – small or big, what I felt these places was harmony.
Though Tenryū-ji dates all the way back to 1345 the buildings are from the Meiji Period. I wonder how during a time when traditional and cultural Japan was at such a defence did they manage to build such exquisite and light buildings. My favourite part however is once again the way the halls open up into the man created nature that is the temple garden.
At the end of the bamboo road…
From Tenryū-ji we followed the main road further north before turning left towards one of Kyoto’s biggest tourist attractions, the Arashiyama bamboo grove. As with the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha my hope was to get a photo or two without the masses. I never really managed one without anyone on, but I did get a few where the people added to the photo.
In all it was quite a beautiful walk with the majestic bamboo raising to the sky above us, enclosing us in their own little world.
We reached the end of the road leading to Okochi Sanso villa, which we already beforehand had decided that we wished to visit.
Okochi Sanso was the private villa of the famoous silent-film era actor, Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962). He constructed this unique garden villa on the south side of Mount Ogura over a 30 year period.
From Okochi Sanso pamphlet
We started our visit with a bit of refreshment in the way of green tea and Japanese sweets, in the cooling shade at the charming tea ceremony room Tekisui-an.
It was a welcome reprieve from the crazy amount of sightseeing we’d done so far. It felt like ages ago that we were waiting for Ryoan-ji to open or enjoying pancakes at MacD.
After our refreshment we walked through the beautiful multi-level garden with its view over the surrounding area. Yet another beautiful garden on this our garden day.
From Okochi Sanso we returned to the Ōi River following it down stream until we reached the moon crossing bridge Togetsu-kyo as the sky was becoming slightly purple and light was giving way to darkness. My boyfriend was still not sated and as I was absolutely done for the day, we decided to split up for the evening. While he crossed the bridge in order to explore the other side, I ventured back to the main train station of Arashiyama.
But I didn’t get far before I was caught by the sight of several silk haori on sale. Haori is a shorter kimono version, or kimono jacket. I ended up spending 30 minutes looking through the many options with a kind Japanese salesman helping me out. However, for the most part he was dragged into the drama of another western customer who was in strong need of assistance incapable of deciding on a yukata. Thank goodness, I’d already found my perfect yukata on our first day in Nagoya. After a while I ended up with a beautiful black silk haori with bamboo on the back. A small memory of Arashiyama and the bamboo grove.
Mighty pleased I was ready to shop and ended up in a few other stores as I slowly made my way to the station. Arriving home, I went for a bit to eat at the Italian Restaurant across the street Modern Times. This time the old lady had been exchanged with two young guys, though pasta was still a missing commodity. I ended up with an omelet, while enjoying the two guys as they got held up in an overly exciting baseball match. Apparently, baseball is huge in Japan, go figure.
Temple count: 1, villa count: 1