Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kenniji: Where the Hanamikoji Ends

Kyoto Rewind: April 1, 2008

Photobucket
Raijin, God of Lightening and Thunder, a detail of the "Wind Thunder Gods" folding screen on display at Kenniji.

The Hanami-koji, or "Flower-viewing Lane", is for many, the heart of Gion. Marked by the brilliant bengara walls of the Ichiriki Teahouse which sits conspicuously on the corner of the intersection with Shijo, it is lined with ochaya (teahouses, places where geisha entertain), okiya (like boarding houses where geisha and maiko live), traditional restaurants and shops. Tourists flock to the Hanami-kouji hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive geisha, but at the far end of this bustling traditional entertainment district and tourist hotspot are the sprawling grounds and majestic temple buildings of Kenniji, Kyoto's oldest Zen temple.

A man in a moment of silence in the garden of Kyoto's oldest Zen temple, Kenni-ji. Founded in 1202 by the priest Eisai, it was patterned after Bai-zhang-shan, China's first Zen monastary, in accordance with the Song dynasty style of architecture.

The garden is done in the "dry mountains and water style" often
found in Zen temples. It seeks to achieve the effect of an ocean or lake dotted with mountains without the actual use of water (represented by the raked stones). It also uses the "borrowed scenery" technique, borrowing the large hall behind the garden to enhance the overall view.

"Wind and Thunder Gods" folding screen by Sotatsu Tawaraya, a national treasure of Japan.

This painting commemorated the 800th anniversary of Kenni-ji's founding in 2002. It measures 11.4 meters by 15.7 meters (the size of 108 tatami mats- a common unit of measure in Japan) and is drawn with the finest quality ink on thick traditional Japanese paper. It was created in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaido and took just under 2 years to complete.

Paintings of dragons are often found on the ceilings of Zen temples, as dragons are believed to be protectors of the Buddhist teachings. They are also considered to be gods of water, sending nourishing rain of the teachings of Buddhism down onto its followers.

This painting offers a unique and profound alternative to the customary portrayal of a single dragon emerging from a large circle representing the universe .

Cho On Tei, "the garden of the sound of the tide", a simple garden nestled between two main buildings and surrounded by raised, wooden walkways and corridors. It's san-zon-seki, the central set of three stones representing the Buddha and two Zen monks, are surrounded by zazen-seki, stones used for seated meditation, and maple trees, creating relaxing, beautiful scenes from every direction.

Two main halls embrace the inner garden with covered wooden corridors of smooth, polished wood. The repetitive, symmetrical use of simple, geometrical shapes and lines in the temple's architecture stands in stark contrast to the lush, seemingly chaotic landscape of the garden.


Even on a gray day, I always enjoy the reverent tranquility and meditative atmosphere of Kenniji. It's so much fun to wander through the dimly lit buildings, slipperlessly sliding slowly down the corridors, feeling every plank and imperfection in the wooden floor boards through my socks, smelling the incense all around me, pretending I've traveled back in time. Sitting in the spacious, open tatami rooms, gazing out onto the inner garden, the brilliant red ribbon of carpet complimenting the garden's verdancy and silvertone stones. I always feel invigorated and refreshed, with just a tinge of sadness, when I leave.

Lucky for me, I step outside and find myself in Kyoto! Not just Kyoto, but Gion, the heart of the Old Capital's cultural traditions. My saddness disappears like dew in the sunshine, no matter how dreary the day.

1 comment:

marillawen said...

I truly love the commemoration paintings, and the first picture you took is just amazing!