Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Kyoto : Ryoan-ji Temple

Kyoto is well known for its many temples and shrines. While gardens of some temples are well known too, there is the garden of one temple which is more popular than the temple itself. That temple would be the Ryoanji temple and the garden is question would be Japan's most famous Rock Garden. The garden is so popular that it attracts hundreds of visitors every day. The temple and and its famous Rock Garden are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.  
The Ryoanji temple is a Zen temple located in north west Kyoto. The temple belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The temple was originally an aristocrat's villa  belonging to the Fujiwara clan during the Heian period and was converted into a Zen temple only in 1450. 
The famous rock garden is considered to be one of the finest surviving remnants of 'Kare-Sansui' ( Dry landscape), a style of Japanese Zen gardens. Typically, dry landscape style of Zen Gardens feature large rock formations arranged among smooth pebbles raked into linear patterns. It is believed that such patterns facilitate meditation.  
It is interesting to note that facts regarding who built the garden and during what period are unknown and various theories exist regarding the meaning of the garden's pattern. It is widely believed that the garden was added somewhere around late 15th century.  
The garden consists of a rectangular plot covered with smooth river pebbles surrounded by low mud walls. 15 rocks are laid out in small groups amidst patches of moss. What makes the garden unique is that from any particular point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from view.  
The Ryoanji temple has served as a mausoleum for several emperors in the past. The tombs are now grouped together as the " Seven Imperial Tombs" in the temple precincts. 
The Ryoanji complex also features a water garden, a pond, a tea house and a tea garden. 

Address: Kyoto Prefecture, 616-8001, Kyoto shi, Ukyo Ward, Ryoanji Goryonoshita cho,13

Phone: 075-463-2216

Opening Hours: 8:00-17:00 hrs ( closes 16:30 hrs from December to February)

Closing Dates: None

Fees: 500 yen

Website: http://www.ryoanji.jp/smph/eng/  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kyoto - Gioji Temple

Our most recent trip to Kyoto was with one of our relatives visiting from overseas. This was her second trip to Japan and she had already visited most of the popular tourist spots in Kyoto on her first trip. Her earlier trip to Japan was in the early 1980's and some of the spots which are popular now, were not part of the tour bus itineraries back then. For instance, she had not visited Fushimi Inari shrine and the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo groves, so we focused on visiting such places. 
On our visit to the Arashiyama area, we stopped by at the Gio-ji temple. Gio-ji temple and its neighboring Takiguchi dera temple are not on most tourist itineraries. Gio-ji temple has a nice moss garden. 


While Kyoto's Saihoji temple (a.k.a Kokedera) is well known for its moss garden, it is practically impossible to visit it unless you have made a reservation well in advance and the entrance fee is pretty high too. So Gioji is definitely easier to visit ! 
The temple's main hall is a tiny thatched hut overlooking the moss garden and bamboo groves. 

As per legend, Gio, a dancer fell in love with Taira no Kiyomori, a powerful chieftain from the Taira family. He spurned her and this led to Gio moving to the temple with her sister Ginyo and their mother and the trio spent the rest of their lives as Buddhist priestesses. Wooden statues representing the women and also Taira no Kiyomori are enshrined in the main hall. 

Address: Kyoto Prefecture 516-8435, Kyoto city, Ukyo-ku, Kozakacho, Saga toriimoto 32

Phone no: 075-861-3574

Opening hours: 9:00-17:00 hrs

Admission fees: Adults 300 yen; children 100 yen

Parking: Free parking for 6 cars available

Official website: www.giouji.or.jp/en 


Monday, March 07, 2016

Nagoya : Tokugawa-en Garden

Nagoya, an industrial city in Central Japan, is not on every tourist's itinerary when visiting Japan. However Nagoya is well known for a couple of things- its cuisine known as Nagoya Meshi, the hot and humid summer season and its place in history as a former Samurai district. Like Tokyo and Japan, Nagoya is an erstwhile castle town where the feudal lord resided in the Castle and his samurais lived in areas surrounding the castle. For over 200 years, Nagoya was the seat of the Owari branch of the powerful Tokugawa clan. Needless to say, Nagoya does have its share of historical spots that attract a fair share of tourists. 

One such spot in Nagoya is Tokugawa-en, a garden well known for its scenic beauty especially in the colorful seasons of Spring and Autumn. 
The garden was laid out in 1695 AD around the retirement villa of Lord Mitsumoto of the Owari-Tokugawa clan. 
Originally the garden was spread out over 44 hectares of land complete with a large lake, the Ryusenko Lake, in the centre. 
Colorful koi fish swim in the Ryusenko lake.
Some views of Tokugawa-en.


The garden has waterfalls, a tea house, wooden bridge, restaurants and flower beds. 

One of the entrances to the gate is the Kuro-mon gate, the Black gate which dates to early 1900's and is said to have survived the bombings of WWII. A large part of the garden was destroyed in the WWII bombings and was reconstructed to its current form and opened to public only in 2004. 

The garden is said to be spectacular in Spring and Autumn. Various kinds of flowers bloom in the garden through the seasons.  I visited the park with my friends during the Peony festival.  
Many varieties of Peonies were blooming. Peonies. know as Botan in Japanese are seen as a symbol of good fortune, bravery and honor and have been depicted in traditional Japanese art, especially ukiyo-e paintings. Peonies were introduced to Japan from China and have been used in preparing traditional medicines. Perhaps due to these reasons, some varieties of Peonies are known as King of Flowers in Japan.
The flowering pots had an interesting style- a straw canopy covered one side of the pot, perhaps to shield the flowering plants from rain and wind.
Some of the peonies in the park
Plum blossoms were beginning to bloom during our visit.
Also on the grounds of the garden is the Tokugawa Art Museum which houses various exhibits and artifacts such as armors and swords, costumes, masks among other treasures. Visitors can choose to visit both the Garden and the Museum or just one of them. Combination as well as separate facility tickets are available. 

Address: Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya 461-0023, Higashi ku, Tokugawa cho 1001

Opening Hours:  Tokugawa Garden: 9:00-17:30 hrs 
                         Tokugawa Art Museum : 10:00-17:00 hrs

Closed : Every Monday ( following day if public holiday falls on a Monday)
             December 29-31 ; (Museum is closed also between Mid December- early January)

Entrance Fees: Tokugawa en Garden : 300 yen
                       Tokugawa Art Museum : 1200 yen
                       Combination ticket: 1350 yen

Parking: Paid parking available.

Official Website: www.http://www.tokugawaen.city.nagoya.jp/english/index.html    

Friday, March 04, 2016

A visit to the Gingko Festival at Sobue

Japan has four distinct seasons and each season has its own beauty. Of the four seasons, Spring and Autumn standout for the spectacular colors that add to the beauty of nature. While Spring is synonymous with Plum, Cherry and Peach Blossoms, Autumn is known for the changing colors of the Maple and Gingko leaves. After writing a couple of posts about the various blossoms in Spring, this post is about Autumn, for a change.  

Over the years we have visited many spots well known for Autumn foliage, primarily for the Momiji - Maple leaves. Last Autumn, my friends and I visited Sobue cho in Inazawa city, near Nagoya which is known for its Gingko foliage. 
More than 10,000 gingko trees paint the entire town in hues of yellow. The best spot however is the Yusenji temple.



It is believed that the Gingko trees in Sobue cho owe their origins to the Gingko trees in Yusenji temple.
We also enjoyed a leisurely walk around town. 

Some of the Gingko trees in the town are said to be over 100 years old. 
The town also hosts an annual Sobue Gold Gingko Festival around the Yusenji temple during the peak period in late autumn. 

Best time to visit: Late November-Early December

Address:  Aichi Prefecture, 495-0002, Inazawa city, Sobue-cho , Yanagino Yamazaki, 11
               (Yusenji temple)
   
Phone no: 0587-97-5800

Entrance fees: Free

Parking: Available 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Tulips at Kiso Sansen Koen

One of the many parks in Japan that we have visited over the years is the Kiso Sansen Park. What makes the park unique is that it straddles three prefectures - Aichi, Gifu and Mie making it Japan's largest National Government Park.The centre of the park and its main access point is in Kaizu city in Gifu prefecture. It is the meeting point of three rivers- Kiso, Nagara and Ibi. 
Of the many flower festivals in the park, the most popular is the Tulip Festival. 
The Tulip area is created in a way that recreates the Tulip fields of Holland. Even miniature windmills are placed amidst the tulip fields. 

About 260,000 tulips of 125 kinds can be seen in the park. 












The colorful tulips create spectacular patterns. 








Miffy, the dutch rabbit character from Dick Bruna's books is a popular character among young children in Japan. During the Tulip festival, Miffy also 'makes' an appearance in the park and people queue up to get a picture clicked with Miffy. 
The Tulip flowering season in April sometimes coincides with the Cherry Blossom festival and it indeed is a treat for the eyes. 
The 360 degree panoramic view from the observation tower offers spectacular views of the colorful tulip beds in the park.




The Kiso Sansen Park is undoubtedly one of Japan's best flower parks and host many festivals from spring through fall. In summer it is also a popular place for picnics. It has a large play area which goes by the name Adventure Land. It features lots of colorful play equipment for kids of all ages. 

There are a couple more parks in the Japan popular for Tulips, the most frequented being the Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki prefecture and the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture. 

Address: Gifu Prefecture 503-0625, Kaizu city, Kaizu-cho, Aburajima 255-3

Phone: 0584-54-5531 

Entrance fees: Free ; Observation tower 620 yen

Opening Hours:  Weekdays 9:00-17:00 and Weekends 8:00 - 18:00 

Closed: 2nd Monday of every month and December 27-30th each year

Parking: Ample Free Parking available

Official Website: http://kisosansenkoen.jp/e/kiso_sansen_park_center/