Kyoto Gardens

Nijo Castle beautiful garden view

Kyoto is an extraordinarily beautiful city with many, many beautiful gardens. I visited Kyoto in May, so while it was beautiful with lush, green foliage everywhere, it was sort of like the lull time between the full blooming of cherry blossoms and azaleas in the spring, and the explosion of color that happens every fall. I couldn’t quite figure out if I was there at the tail end of the azalea blooming season or right at the beginning of the season. Based on the azalea blooming season in Seoul, I was there to see the season off for another year, not welcome a new one. Like the photo above, I saw enough azaleas to see how extraordinarily beautiful it would be to be there for the full bloom season. That photo, and the photo below, is from the garden at Nijo Castle and it was so peaceful and beautiful on that bright, sunny afternoon.

Nijo Castle garden azaelas

All the Kyoto temples, castles and shrines have at least a small garden to enjoy. Kodaiji Temple has some beautiful foliage while walking through the temple grounds, including a small bamboo forest.

Kyoto interesting tree

I kept imagining what this tree will look like in the fall. I’ve seen pictures of amazing Japanese trees during autumn, and the rainbow of colors is awe inspiring to behold. I want to see Japanese foliage in the full thrust of autumn at some point in my life.

Kodaiji Temple complex

Kodaiji Temple garden window view

This view looks almost like a  painting, but rather it is framed by a door.

Kodaiji Temple bamboo forest

Ryonanji Temple also has a garden, but it is not the typical garden you expect. Sure, the temple is located on a woodsy grounds, but the centerpiece garden of this temple is a famous Zen rock garden. It was created in the 15th century during the Muromachi Period, and consists of 15 rocks set in waves of neatly organized white temples, surrounded by clay walls. Visitors aren’t able to walk in the garden obviously, but there is a wooden veranda visitors can contemplate the garden.

Ryoanji Temple Zen rock garden

Another beautiful garden is the Shinen Gardens located at the Heian Shrine. This was another place replete with azaleas in partial bloom, and I kept imagining what it looks like during the height of blooming season when it would be a riot of color. It was also full of fledgling iris flowers and waterlilies, which just started their blooming season.

Shinen Gardens irises pond

me at Shinen Gardens waterlily pond

Shinen Garden waterlily pond overhead view

The waterlilies were starting their summer blooming season. At times, it almost felt I was in a hidden world somewhere in Narnia.

Shinen Garden waterlily pond stepping stones

water snake at Shinen Gardens waterlily pond

A water snake slithering through a waterlily pond.

Shinen Gardens waterlily pond closeup

Shinen Gardens waterlily pond overhead wide view

I only saw a few gardens, and what I did see made me want to come back to the city during the fall. Sure I’d also love to see the city during cherry blossom season, but that blooming season only lasts seven to 10 days. So it is hard to coordinate a vacation during cherry blossom season, and it’s easier to catch if you actually live in Japan. But autumn is my favorite time of the year, and I’m always on the lookout for beautiful, colorful nature. Kyoto would probably be the ideal place in Japan to experience the height of all. I’m seriously considering coming back on one of my fall long weekends.

Kyoto Temples- May 2013

Kinkakuji- Temple of Golden Pavilion

Memorial Day weekend I visited Kyoto. It had been on my travel list for a while since it is the cultural capital of Japan, and is one of the few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombing during World War II. So there are more historical structures and neighborhoods still in existence, even though they reside right along and among modern day Japanese architecture. If you love temples and shrines, this is definitely the city for you. I didn’t even see all of them, but focused on some of the larger, more famous and more beautiful temples.

The first one I visited was Nijo Castle which is pretty centrally located in the city. The external building of the main castle,, Ninomaru Palace, is very beautiful.

Nijo Castle entry

The one thing about many (though thankfully not all) Japanese castles/temples is that photographs are not allowed inside of most of these structures. So you just relax and enjoy the view and you don’t worry about jockeying for position to take photographs. Asian castles, palaces and temples are set up very differently than their counterparts in the West, which is no surprise. The most interesting feature of this castle is the nightingale floors. Every time someone steps on these floorboards, you hear a squeaking sound like a nightingale bird. They were installed to protect the shogun from enemies, and the sound can be rather loud when tour groups are shuffling through.

The entire castle complex is encircled by thick stone walls. There are other buildings located throughout the castle grounds, along with a very peaceful garden.

Nijo Castle walls

The next main temple I visited was the Sanjusangendo Hall. This is another temple that prohibits photography of its interior.

Sanjusangendo Hall

The interior of the temple is rather spectacular. The entire hall stretches nearly 120m  and is filled with 1,001 wooden statues of the thousand-handed Kannon surrounding a huge seated Kannon status in the center of the hall. It’s rather awe inspiring to realize that these wooden statues date from the 12th and 13th centuries and still exist. It’s rather hard to describe and should be something that is taken in to appreciate the artistry of the statuary.

After that temple, I continued my day long walk of eastern Kyoto with Kiyomizu Temple. This temple was initially built in 798 CE and rebuilt in 1633.  It too is a temple complex filled with other entry buildings and pagodas to enjoy.

Kiyomizu Temple entry

Kiyomizu Temple Pagoda

One of the most popular buildings in the temple complex is Jishu Shrine. This shrine is considered to be the home of the god of love and matchmaking. One can purchase charms for all sorts of desires, and even leave your own wishes.

Jishu Shrine

The main hall of the temple complex is constructed over a cliff and has a large wooden veranda supported by 139 pillars.

Kiyomizu Temple complex

The temple grounds were rich in green, because it was the height of spring. I can only imagine how beautiful the grounds look in the fall when the leaves turn into explosions of reds, oranges, and yellows. As you can see in the picture, this is a very popular place to visit, not only for foreign tourists but also school groups. I visited on a Saturday, and there were literally busloads of schoolkids running through the grounds.

Probably one of the most aesthetically beautiful temples in Kyoto is Kinkakuji Shrine (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The original temple was constructed in the 1390s and was covered in gold leaf. The original structure was burned to the ground in 1950, and the temple was rebuilt in 1955.

me at Golden Pavilion

Golden Pavilion pond

I visited this temple on Monday, and not surprisingly, there were hordes of school groups visiting the site (seriously is that all school kids do every day-visit beautiful sites?) But still, the pavilion itself is very beautiful to look at (you can’t go inside the structure), and the surrounding green parklands was very beautiful.

It would be easy to overdose on temples and shrines and palaces in Kyoto, just because there are so many in the city, many of them original. But if you like beauty, they are certainly not to be missed in Kyoto.