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.
Overcast skies but no rain on my second solo day in Japan, so I took the JR Yokosuka line to Kamakura. It is very easy to get around — the automatic ticket machines and posted maps are fairly intuitive, but it does help to have a good orientation skills. A forty-five minute trip dropped me at Kita-Kamakura Station on a little side road lined with private residences. The numerous temples were located at the end of long narrow roads heading up into the surrounding hills. I only had time to visit six sites, plus lunch and a brief stop in a lacquer shop. I wish I’d had more time here — a wonderful place of temples, shrines, and gardens.
This gardener pruned a row of tree peonies down to a couple of strong buds on each stem. Using sign language, he told me that not only did it keep the plants from outgrowing their space, but also made for larger blossoms on the remaining framework. I will have to try this with some overgrown specimens.
Casual bonsai like this pot were popular everywhere. This arrangement of a maple, toad lily, and gemmiferous spikemoss (Selaginella moellendorffii) is a charming microcosm of natural woodland growth I observed. Coincidentally, I purchased a pot of this spikemoss at Arrowhead Alpines last summer for use in a container — I’m over-wintering it inside since it’s only hardy to zone 7. According to Phytozome, this member of the ancient family of lycophytes has the smallest genome of any plant reported, making it invaluable for understanding plant evolution. After 400 million years of perseverance, I hope it survives my basement.
The Hojo garden at Engaku-ji enclosed “Hyaku Kan-non,” a hundred sculptures of the goddess of mercy from the Edo period. Petitioners left offerings to accompany silent prayers.
Tradition says that these 750 year-old junipers at Kencho-ji were planted by founder Rankei Doryu (1213-78) from seed brought from China.
Natural springs trickled from the steep slopes surrounding the temple complexes.
Shimenawa (sacred ropes) mark an iwakura, an ancient rock seat of the gods.
Meigetsu-an, “Bright Moon Hermitage,” features a dry landscape garden with a background of karikoma, tightly clipped shrubs simulating verdant mountains. The rock arrangement represents Buddhist cosmology, with Shumisen, the world mountain, rising from the center of supporting stones.
Supplicants adorn the statues with red garments and leave tokens of loved ones as they pray for the well-being of both the living and the dead. A color traditionally signifying good fortune and protection from evil, red also decorates buildings, lanterns, and gates. A classic example is the Hachiman-gu Shrine (1063), dedicated to the god of war.