A warm sunny day may not be the best time to visit a traditional Japanese garden -- it's certainly not going to be a shady walk through the woods. On this trip, I found myself in the Kyoto station area with about an hour to spare before lunch so I decided to visit the Shosei-en Garden.
The garden is about a fifteen minute walk from the station. With Kyoto Tower looming behind me,
I turned off into one of the side streets that would take me to Shosei-en.
The entrance to Shosei-en is through the Nishi-mon or the western gate. The garden is open from
9 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. While entrance is free, you are subtly invited to make a "donation" -- 500 yen will give you a glossy full colour magazine with photos and articles about Shosei-en. It is definitely worth more than 500 yen!
Shosei-en was built in the 17th century for the Abbot of Higashi Hongan-ji, a major Buddhist temple. Designed by Ishikawa Jozan, it was intended not just as a residence but as a stroll garden as well. It isn't a very big garden, as shown by the map above but it has many of the elements of the traditional Japanese garden.
Since I had barely an hour to spare, I thought I would breeze in and out of the garden.
Take a few photos and leave. But as I was walking in I was stopped dead in my tracks by this small green turtle crossing my path. If I hadn't looked down at the right moment, he would have been crushed underfoot.
I took it as a sign and decided that perhaps he was sent to tell me to relax, slow down and enjoy
the beauty of Shosei-en.
My first glimpse inside the garden was this serene pond, filled with koi and bordered by two wooden viewing pavilions called Rinchi-tei and Tekisui-ken. The still shallow waters are a vivid green, reflecting all the shrubbery and trees around the pond.
Can you see the stone lantern partially covered by the trees? There is a waterfall beside it that just completes this lovely scene. I can imagine just how peaceful it must have been to sit on these decks and contemplate all this beauty.
A short walk away is this unusual two story building. There are two wooden staircases on each side, leading up to the second floor. This is the Boka-kaku which was built as a ceremonial gate.
Cherry trees surround it making it a popular sakura viewing spot during spring.
Boka-kaku and the other buildings in Shosei-en were painstakingly reconstructed in the late 19th century as the original structures were destroyed by fire and wars.
The biggest and perhaps the major feature of the garden is this large pond.
Called Ingetsu-chi, it covers more than 20% of the grounds. The booklet given at the entrance states that this is an ideal spot to view the full moon, which on a clear cloudless night is reflected perfectly on the water.
Unfortunately, a couple of tall buildings, electric wires and even a tall crane mar the daytime view.
Because it is summer, lotus pads have proliferated on the pond's surface. At the very end is Sochinkyo, where tea ceremonies were held during the Abbot's day.
As I lingered by the pond's edge, I saw this exquisite lotus flower. Kobo Daishi's teaching
came quickly to mind -- even in the mud, beauty can bloom.
Taking the cue from my friend, the turtle, I walked quietly and slowly through Shosei-en, seeking out shaded cool paths that offered some relief from the bright noonday sun. I crossed a small stone bridge that connects two areas of the garden -- the west and north side.
In this lush sylvan setting, I forget that I am in the middle of Kyoto. There was no one else around, no busloads of tourists -- I have Shosei-en all to myself on this splendid summer day.
On the north side of the garden is Kaitoro, a covered wooden bridge that spans part of Ingetsu-chi pond.
I trod gingerly and carefully on the bridge's wooden boards. At the very end are stone steps leading to Shukuen-tei, another small tea ceremony house. I sat for quite some time here in Kaitoro, thinking of nothing but just being completely present in this moment.
The sun was high above the sky as I headed back to the exit -- back to the bustle and crowds of Kyoto. I felt almost reluctant to take the next steps that would lead me out of the garden.
I looked for my friend the turtle and found him cooling off in the shade. I just knew he would be waiting for me. I whispered a quick thank you for his priceless gift of a tranquil solitary hour,
all by myself in Shosei-en.
all by myself in Shosei-en.
N.B Details about Shosei-en were taken from the booklet that you are given when you make a 500 yen donation.