Saturday, February 16, 2008

Golden Day

About 10 days ago, I asked some of the faculty with more experience here for a suggestion for a field trip, and they suggested something called the Silver Temple (Ginkakuji). So I found another faculty member, and off we went. It was an incredible day. We started in the early afternoon, took the train to the Imperial City, and then walked up to the temple area.

As you can see if you scroll down, this temple is known for a dry garden, which is what I typically think of when I think of a "Zen Garden" (I think). It's got gravel, or stone, and big stones, perhaps some moss, but mostly gravel or sand and a few big stones. At Ginkakuji, the dry garden is a raised platorm of sand/gravel, about two feet tall, which has to be cared for every day. (You can see this if you scroll down after clicking the link.)

And then we went along a walk called the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugakunomichi). It was okay, but will be spectacular in a month or so, I bet (and I hope I'll be back).

Along the way, we tried some sweet potato candy, and met a couple of Canadians (because they asked us if the candy was good, and we shared). It was a wonderful day, and the other faculty member taught me several really useful kanji (for exit, and river, and north).

The Canadians suggested that Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion) would also be a great day trip, so that's where I went today.

I feel a little awkward inviting other faculty folks along, mostly because they've all been here for a while, or often, and so what I'm going to are beginner places, and they've probably been a dozen times. And I wanted to get a stronger sense of getting places on my own, so I got a city bus map copy, and asked about the area, and made my plans for the day.

In the northern part of the city, there's the Imperial Palace; you need to arrange ahead of time to get a permit to go there, so I thought I'd go by there along the way, and see if I could get a permit for some time soon. I found the park just fine (always encouraging), but the guard said it was closed on weekends, so I couldn't get a permit until the weekday. (Maybe I'll try next week?) So I checked my bus information, and off I went, to the Kinkakuji!

As I was heading in, there was a group of three or four people standing to the left of the entry, in white jackets. One of them told me that she was a volunteer guide (and it was on the jacket, too), and that volunteer guides offer to give tourists a basically guided tour of the temple. I've heard of that in Japan, but hadn't experienced it yet, so I said thank you, I'd appreciate a guide, and off we went.

I have to tell you, what a fun and enlightening experience! She explained all sorts of things to me, answered lots of questions I have about what I've been seeing.

And it was INCREDIBLE, too! The original building was built in the 14th century, but it was burned down in about 1950, and rebuilt, and then refurbished in the late 1980s, re-covered with gold leaf.

It was snowing, so not quite as scenic as the pictures at the site I've linked, but I need to go when I have time and stuff, and enjoy what I can, so I did, and yep, still amazing!

After the Kinkakuji, I still had some time, and I'd been told about another dry garden at another temple, Ryoanji (I'm not sure what the English meaning would be). So I walked there. It was well worth the visit, too!

I don't think I really "get" dry gardens, but I enjoy looking at them and getting a sense of the patterns and such. They also make me think about how intensive the work of keeping them "groomed" must be. I've been noticing, as I walk in gardens and such, how many workers I see, quietly raking in amongst trees or off the walk, or whereever, just a lot of people working semi-behind the scenes to keep things beautiful.

So, that was my golden day. More soon, but my hot bath just called me!


  1. Beautiful! I've always wanted to visit Japan.

    Keep the tour coming...

  2. Anonymous4:13 PM

    The burning of Kinkakuji became the subject of one of Mishima's most famous novels, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Not a bad place to start with Mishima's work, if you've never read any.

    Ryoan means "peaceful dragon." Ji is a suffix that means "temple." So, Peaceful Dragon Temple is a good translation.

  3. TBTAM, Come on over!

    Richard, thanks for the suggestion! I've only read a couple of Mishima's works, but I'll add this one to my list. I have a feeling that reading about places I'm seeing or have seen will be really cool. And thanks for the translation help!