Monday, March 23, 2015

Denboin Garden in Asakusa - hidden in plain sight

Senso-ji in Asakusa is my favourite place in all of Tokyo.  I never fail to visit each time I am in the city.   It is the oldest and most popular Buddhist temple in Tokyo where the Goddess of mercy Kannon is enshrined.
There is a garden in Senso-ji called Denboin that I had passed by many times but had never been able to enter.  It is located beside the pagoda and is hardly ever open to the public.

On this last trip to Tokyo, Denboin opened its doors with an exhibit of traditional Japanese paintings.   This exhibit would last till May 7 and would give visitors a chance to see both the gallery and the garden.  The first day of the Denboin's opening coincided with my visit to Senso-ji so it was indeed serendipity -- and of course, I believe it was a grace given to me by Kannon herself.

It's a pity that photos were not allowed inside the gallery where I enjoyed a small but excellent  exhibit of traditional antique Japanese paintings and sculpture. 
As I stepped out of the gallery, the garden of Denboin slowly unfolded before me, transporting me to a serene and tranquil place -  far from the crowds and noise of Senso-ji.

The gardens comprise a land area of about a hectare and was designed by a famous Japanese landscape gardener more than 300 years ago.  While a hectare may seem large, the garden itself was compact and very easy to navigate.  

So many varieties of trees, shrubs and plants can be seen in Denboin.  Perhaps it was a bit early for spring blossoms but if I had come a few weeks later,  the greenery would probably be in full flower.

The main reason why Denboin is closed to the public is that for generations, this has been the residence of the head priest of Senso-ji.  Only nobles like the Shogun and priests were allowed to enter.    Denboin is very much an active part of the workings of the temple.  I was told that the gardens are opened occasionally to the public, perhaps twice a year.  Which is why I felt truly fortunate to be in this place at this time.

Today, the priests of Senso-ji have opened the gardens to us and have even laid out cups of steaming hot matcha.  These provide a warm welcome, particularly on this chilly March afternoon.
The deep rich matcha tastes of the woods, of trees, of the earth, of goodness --  I feel it tastes of the gardens of Denboin.

I make my way through the garden and come upon this tangle of branches with a single sakura blossom.  It's a sweet early sign of cherry blossom season and a perfect example of wabi sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of impermanent beauty.

Like many traditional Japanese gardens Denboin features a pond built in the middle.  Looking at the reflection of the trees and the buildings on the water doubles my pleasure and enjoyment of this lovely place.

As I make my way around the path that encircles the pond, so many alluring and captivating views are revealed.  From this spot, the pagoda of Senso-ji makes  a magnificent backdrop against the blue spring sky.

Each step, each glance opens up another exquisite perspective.   I find myself stopping at certain spots, hoping to imprint this particular memory in my mind's eye so that I can return to it again and again.

 Even this last look at Denboin, with the towering Sky Tree in the background does not strike me as incongruous -- I see it as a harmonious balance between old and new, traditional and modern, efficiency and elegance.

 As I reluctantly make my way out of Denboin,  I come upon this small rock pool.
Surely not by design, but perhaps blown down by the wind, one pink camellia rests on the edge of the stones.   I know it as a parting gift from Kannon, a sign of her mercy to lift my spirits.
Namu amida butsu.

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