A visitor having a pause from the daily grind on the wooden veranda at Shoren-in.
With the risk of sounding all too unorganized as a traveler, my visit to Shoren-in was again quite improvised... On my way to another garden, I was attracted by the ancient camphor trees in front of some old gates, and couldn't keep myself from peeking in.
The Shoren-in temple is well-known in Japan for its strolling gardens, even if they seldom figure on any international books or websites. The building feels more like a residence, and has actually functioned as such for the imperial family during the Great Fire which raged in Kyoto in 1788 - at that time, it was called Awata Gosho, or the Awata Imperial Palace, despite being quite tiny for the purpose.
The gnarled, ancient camphor tree that attracted me to peek inside the temple gates... there are five of them in total within the temple grounds.
The site is so called monzeki temple, which is a term only used for temples with strong connections to families of imperial or high rank (like high court officers, or samurai families). Traditionally, members of these families served as the head monks or nuns of monzeki temples, so these institutions had a great influence in the Japanese Buddhism because of their close cultural and political relationship with the imperial family and samurai feudal governments.
The temple itself is famous for its statuary as well as for its place in Japanese history; it protected the priests Honen and Shinran, who developed the Tendai-sect of Buddhism in the 13th century. Contemporary followers of this sect regard Shoren-in as a particularly sacred place, which was clearly evident from the silently gracious behavior of the older Japanese who were visiting at the same time as I. Not as severely impressive as Ryoan-ji or as spectacular as Kinkaku-ji, the Shoren-in temple was nevertheless gracefully elegant, and had an wonderfully live and intimate feeling - in my imagination, I could see the noble monks wandering through the paths or sitting on the verandas, deeply sunken to their Zen meditations, just like the visitor during my visit, having a respite from his daily grind on the wooden veranda.
The central Ryushinchi pond; the name means 'Heart of Dragon'. The gardens are at the foot of Mount Awata and take an advantage of the hills behind; see how the bamboo forms a green, vertical curtain behind the pond.
Another view of the Ryushinchi pond; I took this from the veranda that can be seen to the right in the picture above.
Moving into the next building of the temple, again with verandas for meditating and garden viewing...
Unfortunately, I don't think my pictures like the one above make justice to the place... the buildings and gardens are connected by covered wooden walkways, all of which offer different views of the gardens.
One of the buildings with a wonderful view of the gardens; tatamis cover all the floors, and the walls (sometimes sliding doors) are painted beautifully - as here, with bold and quite modern looking lotus flowers.
And one more huge camphor tree, from the inner gardens. I have this strange love for old trees that I can't really explain - I feel really close and protective of them... and here, again, is one to love.