A Secret and Delightful Dry Garden in Kyoto
Shoden-ji is a small temple of the Zen Buddhism Rinzai branch, perched on a hill in a residential neighborhood in the north of Kyoto. Away from the center of the city and its tourists flows, this haven of serenity shelters a fascinating karesansui dry garden, completed by the view on Mount Hiei in the background.
Kyoto may be suffering from over-tourism, but the city’s regulars (us included) know that travelers usually focus on a small set of specific visits and rarely stray away from these places. It has become rather unpleasant to walk in Gion, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove or Kiyomizu-dera on the day time for a large part of the year due to the crowds, but the city is rich of thousands of temples and gardens among which gems are hidden from conventional sightseeing tours.
A promising ascension to the entrance of the temple
Shoden-ji temple is of a difficult access, which makes it all the more rewarding for hidden marvels amateurs. From Kyoto station, the bus ride lasts 45 minutes, then one must walk a good 15 minutes on a steep road in a residential neighborhood of the north of the city. Discovering this gem indeed requires high spirits.
The temple’s grounds, whose access is free, offer a free walk in a bamboo grove that is slowly recovering from the damages caused by typhoon 🌀 Hagibis, and hides the nearby wide Funayama Golf Course. On the opposite side, a beautiful graveyard spreads endlessly as well as a panorama on Kyoto, with a view on Mount Daimonji. Some wonderful views to be expected from the quiet heights of the former capital.
A concentrate of Zen Buddhism
Shoden-ji temple, run by an old Japanese family, is of a very small scale: it consists of only one pavilion, with a tatami floor and inside which taking pictures is forbidden (Kanpai however received permission). It shelters a large drawing of Buddha in Nirvana whose lines are in fact sutras, so thinly written that a magnifying glass is necessary to read them. When looking up, one discover one of the famous blood ceilings salvaged from Fushimi Castle 🏯.
But the highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the exceptional karesansui dry garden named Shishinokowatashi-no-niwa that translates into "Lion Family Crossing the River Garden." It was created by famous landscape gardener Mirei Shigemori (1896 – 1975) and easily outshines Ryoan-ji garden. On less than a dozen square meters area, it unveils a moment of evanescent serenity, to discover while respecting the solemn character of the place. In an Olympian calm, preferably in a season where vegetation completes this scenery so exquisite that it seems surreal, the contemplation of this landscape certainly prompts to meditation.
The usual rocks were replaced by rhododendron bushes that bloom in May and give the picture an ephemeral light pink hue. The garden is also a shakkei as its includes the surrounding landscapes to its scenery, and especially the sacred Mount Hiei in the left hand background.
Meanwhile, two kilometers away as the crow flies, the tourists continuously flow from sightseeing buses in Kinkaku-ji and create noisy pedestrian jams that waste the discovery of the Golden Pavilion… Enjoying Kyoto is definitely a matter of making the good visit choices.