Researching Kyoto, I had a short list of “must-sees” for I knew time would be short. At the top of the list was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, based on pictures alone. I knew the Tenryu-ji Temple was also close by so figured we could take a peek at it. At that time, I didn’t realize how painfully beautiful the Tenryu-ji Temple would be.
We arrived early in the morning, getting off at a stop too soon. This gave us a short walk through town and an introduction to handsome rickshaw drivers waiting for passengers. The air felt cool and crisp. Having come from the Bangkok heat, this was a noticeable, much appreciated difference.
We found a sign for the Bamboo Grove and I was surprised by what I found. In my mind, it was a park, with a walkway, secluded and empty of other visitors. In reality, it was a lane that had the occasional car or scooter and many tourists [of course] also seduced by the pictures. I will admit I was a bit disappointed. The photographs I’d seen had done a great job of portraying it as a pristine path that only a few knew about. Where this was not the case, walking in between the walls of bamboo was still pretty and I definitely took enough pictures.
We entered near a tiny park which gave my first introduction to the Japanese maple, which I immediately fell in love with. The leaves are so delicate and yet all of their individual leaves created an amazing canopy to look through. The garden was fragrant from the trees and surrounding plants. It reminded me of so many days in the North Carolina mountains. We lingered there a moment, waiting for a large group of tourists to pass, snapping pictures of the leaves, and breathing deeply.
The path lead us past a beautiful cemetery of stone markers and thousands of bamboos until we came to an entrance for the Tenryu-ji Temple. This was the star of my morning. The name means “Temple of the Heavenly Dragon”, and it was quite heavenly.
We paid our entrance fee and found ourselves on a pristine pathway lined with trees and other plants. The temple seemed to pride itself on the diversity of its plant life for signs named various plants, which I absolutely loved. It reminded me of other botanical gardens visited.
We snaked through these paths until the greenery opened up to reveal the incredible Sōgenchi Garden. It dates back to the 14th century and my jaw literally dropped to see it. It was so beautiful. This was the first Japanese garden I saw and it did not disappoint. A rock garden created a stage showcasing a beautiful pond with large koi. The backdrop was mountains dotted with multicolored trees, regaining their color from winter.
I kept staring at the gardens and the trees wondering if this was actually my reality for it was so incredible. The air didn’t have a trace of smog so my eyes kept picking up minuscule details on the rows of trees that dotted the mountain. Incredible. [Once home, I looked at my pictures and know they do a poor job of capturing the beauty of these gardens, so you should definitely go and see them yourself!]
We walked around the gardens a bit more but didn’t have time to check out the buildings.The temple dates back to 1339 although a previous temple occupied the site from the 9th century. The current buildings are from the 19th Century as the temple has had eight fires there, perhaps it is a Heavenly Fire Dragon in residence.
We returned to the Bamboo pathway and found more beauty along the path, ending at another road. We followed that path up the hill to a beautiful overlook of the river and temple among all the green. Our path back lead us to a quaint train station for ice cream and a nearby shrine on the river.
We ended our morning at a second Japanese temple, Seiryoji Temple, after unsuccessful attempts to find a desired restaurant. The temple hosted impressive entry gates but coming from the Tenryu-ji Temple, I fear I was not as impressed. The internet teaches me that it was
…constructed in 895 as a replica of Wutai Shan or Qingliang Shan of China.
There appeared to be a small museum on site but peeking in, I saw no English so decided to skip it. I took a moment to gaze at the tools for making merit and paid a few coins for the incense to carry my happy thoughts to the heavens.
Kyoto was definitely my favorite city visited and the afternoon that lead me to the Silver Pavilion did not disappoint.
Have you visited any Japanese gardens?
Tenryu-ji Temple –
Bamboo Path –
Small Shrine –
Green tea ice cream –
Seiryoji Temple –