I almost didn’t make it to this garden. My walking map erred a bit on scale — what appeared to be a 1/2 mile stroll turned into a multiple mile uphill trek. It was nearly 3 p.m., and with dusk falling by late afternoon, I worried a bit about losing my way on the back streets. Fortunately, I persevered, and was rewarded with a hidden gem.
This Bosatsu with his walking staff looked like a saint for travelers, so I dropped a few coins at his feet. The seemingly artless vignette composed of the ancient statue and naturalistic planting was characteristic of the small, enclosed garden.
While these stacked stones are roughly dressed to follow the shape of a traditional lantern, the rustic geometric shapes reflect modern sculpture. I don’t know if this artifact is old or new, but it doesn’t matter; its timeless quality adds to its mystery.
I would swear that these leaves were deliberately spread over the surface of the pond for aesthetic effect. The fact that no other leaves have accumulated elsewhere reinforces this impression.
Utilizing the fork of a dead trunk and a hollow branch collar in another, even barriers are imaginatively positioned.
The textured backdrop of this dry landscape garden contrasted strongly with the one at Meigetsu-an. The variety of clipped shrubs and clumps of waving grasses added a dynamism to the scene that was absent in other gravel gardens. Static rocks take second place to the vegetation, leaning more to Western gardening styles. Have the plants been allowed to grow beyond strict limitations by accident or on purpose? Either way, the effect is beautiful, with the stones lingering like ghosts under the leaves.
Famous for its Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens), narrow paths wind through the magical grove with shoots towering at heights of 20m.
Yagura, caves carved out of rock in the surrounding hillsides, serve as tombs for Ashikaga shoguns.
This old tree leaning precariously over the path was hollow through the main part of its trunk, but a wooden brace kept it from falling and preserved the lovely lines of its weathered branches. This appreciation of the old and imperfect is the essence of wabi-sabi, one of the best qualities of Japanese gardens that is often missing from the Western perspective. Although small, Hokoku-ji was well worth the effort. On the walk back to the train station downtown, I stopped at a lovely lacquer shop and purchased pins carved in shapes of oak and ginkgo leaves finished with deep vermilion stain — mementos of a wonderful day.