Shoren-in Temple (established in 1150), just a 5 minute walk from Higashiyama subway station, is an extremely attractive temple. Most impressively, one can enjoy its three different gardens in three different ways. In addition, we can enjoy walking around the temple both inside the buildings and outside in the gardens. This is quite unique in that most of the temples in Kyoto close either the buildings or gardens. It means we can enjoy the gardens not only from the room and corridors, but also walking out in the fresh air. The main garden, called Soami-no-niwa, is a very sophisticated excursion type garden centered around a pond. A miniature hill and the arrangement of trees are perfectly proportioned. It was designed by Soami who also has the rock garden at Ginkaku-ji Temple attributed to him.
- First enter the building and see Soami-no-niwa Garden, enjoying it from the corridors stretching out in the shape of a horseshoe.
- Then enjoy the temple's moss-covered garden from the corridors around the buildings.
- Finally, go out and take a walk through the azalea garden, and then see the other two gardens again.
When we enter the building, the first place we go is a reception room called Kacho-den. Beautiful paper-sliding doors with lotus flowers welcome you. And above them, 36 framed pictures and poems from 36 poets are on the wall. Enjoy these decorations, and then go into the wide back tatami room. If you sit in the middle of the room, you will be conscious of being in the middle of light pouring into the room through its big windows. Most people stayed here for quite a long time. And so did I. I was wrapped up in the warm sunshine, enjoying the beautiful garden in a silence. This garden is attributed to Soami, and is called Soami-no-niwa Garden (Soami's Garden).
After enjoying the garden, exit the room and walk along the nice wooden corridor facing the garden. It is the same garden, but interestingly, when we see it from different angles by walking the corridors the impression of the garden changes second by second. Going through Kogosho and Hondo Hall, we can go into the innermost part of the garden. After Hondo Hall, the route circles back and leads to Shinden Hall.
Important ceremonies are usually held at Shinden Hall. The garden in front of Shinden is moss-covered open space with only a few trees. The fresh green moss has a soothing effect on our nerves! It’s so beautiful.
At the end, come back to the first place you entered, and go out into the garden. When we follow the route, we can see an azalea garden (designed by Kobori Enshu), Soami-no-niwa Garden, a great view of the whole temple grounds from the top of the hill, and the moss-covered garden, in that order.
Soami (1459?-1525) was a multi-talented creator who served the Ashikaga Shogunate. He was a painter, connoisseur of fine calligraphy, poet, garden planner, and more. Soami's grandfather, father and Soami himself were prominent artists who were granted an audience with the Emperor and Shogun quite often. Soami especially became a great master in painting and room decoration. Some of his paintings are owned by the Met and Cleveland Museum of Art.
About this series
Japan's Heian Period (794-1185) was an age of aristocracy. Their refined taste found its way into the design of temple buildings and gardens. The buildings often had no walls, but instead latticed shutters or sliding doors all around. When the shutters or doors were completely opened, the inside of the rooms became a part of the outside world. Outside roofed corridors connecting each building were also a place where they could touch nature, enjoy the gardens, and breathe and feel fresh air, yet be protected from rain, snow and strong sunshine. Noblemen really enjoyed the seasonal change of the gardens, and the comfortable touch of the wood of these impressive outside corridors.
The temples covered in this series (see below) were all established in the Heian Period, and are admired for the arrangement of their beautiful corridors. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
- Eikan-do Temple (established in 853): Excursion through a collection of vertical corridors, leading up to higher levels
- Daikaku-ji Temple (established in 876): Excursion through a labyrinth of long horizontal corridors
- Ninna-ji Temple (established in 888): Zigzag corridors connecting sand and pond gardens
- Shoren-in Temple (established in 1150): Horseshoe corridors facing three gardens
If you enjoyed this series, you might also like my Prominent Garden Designers. This series introduces five famous Kyoto gardens.
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Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS: An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here. 日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。