The philosopher's path


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April 8th 2016
Published: April 8th 2016
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Spring rains send arrows

The first cherry petals fall

Know that life is short.

Walking the philosopher's path today has inspired me to begin this entry with an attempt at a haiku. I think the last time I tried to write one was in primary school. The philosopher's path got its name because it was the daily walking route of a Kyoto University philosopher. It is a beautiful cherry-tree-lined path which runs alongside a canal, with shrines and temples coming off in every directuion. There was a soft snowfall of cherry petals and parts of the path and canal were carpeted in pink, though there are still many blossoms on the trees.

At one end of the path is Ginkaku-ji, the silver temple, which isn't actually silver but has the name because of the intentions of its builder Ashikaga Yoshimatsu to cover it in silver to match the gold temple. It is regarded as one of the finest examples of the Zen-influenced Higashiyama culture. We loved Zen garden,which includes a very impressive raked sand section with a flawless 'sandcastle' in the shape of Mt Fuji. The effort that goes into maintaining it must be huge but despite yesterday's heavy rains there was not a grain of sand out of place. Zen gardens have few flowers because the colour is seen as distracting. There are winding paths and waterways, designed to make you slow down and become more aware of your surroundings. It is a very peaceful and relaxing environment and I found I was able to tune out the other tourists and really hear the birds and water and feel the tranquillity of the place.

We stopped at a couple of the many other temples and shrines. We were walking past one when we heard a sound almost exactly like a shofar, so we went in to investigate and found a Buddhist monk blowing a huge conch shell to mark Buddha's birthday.

At the other end of the path is a huge temple complex called Nanzen-Ji. We visited a small part of it, the Nanzen-in temple. It was originally built as a residential palace in the Shoin Zakura style with shoji screens overlooking another lovely Zen garden. Many of the screens were open, allowing us to see lovely sumi-e ink screen paintings on the interior walls and particularly to see how the style integrated buildings and garden beautifully.


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