Cloud bursts punctuated and brought brief respite to our visit to see the lotus pond at Hokongo-in Temple. At 7 am we were already soaked from the 10-minute walk to the temple; a rain shower then washed away most of the sweat, only to be followed by more searing heat and palpable humidity.
Founded in 824, or slightly later than nearby Ninaji Temple, Hokongo-in (temple of the diamond law) is located just south of Narabigaoka Park and a five-minute walk from JR Hanazono Station on Marutamachi Dori (street) in west Kyoto. Like Ninaji, it was originally a villa. Hokongo-in was built by Kiyohara-no-Natsuno, a court official whose descandants still live in nearby Omuro. His wonderful title was Minister of the Right.
The early Emperors Saga, Junna, and Nimmyo were frequent visitors and said to enjoy the fall colors of the nearby mountains and parks. In the 850s the Emperor Montoku built a monastery on the grounds of the villa. Within these grounds, the Empress had a large pond dug in the garden.
For the Heian nobility, Hokongo-in was the center of Amida Buddhism, and the beauty of the temple and its grounds were often featured in poems of the period.
The temple, along with Kyoto and Japan itself, enjoyed periods of prosperity--and then times of neglect. In 1573, for example, the temple was damaged by a large earthquake. Only a few of the buildings were restored. In 1615, when times were better, a "sutra library" was built. In 1939, nearby Marutamachi Street was widened, and the temple was forced to consolidate, leaving the grounds more or less as they appear today.
The pond in the southeast corner of the grounds is filled with lotus plants and frogs and dragon flies; and it is surrounded by azalea bushes. We arrived just as the lotus blooming season was getting under way. The priest at the entrance, a wizened character out of an Ozu film who spoke in the old Kyoto dialect, apologetically warned us that the garden was still a bit "sabishii" (forlorn, wanting). Many of the flowers had yet to bloom, but those that had were spectacular.
On our way out, he told us to come back again around the time of Gion Matsuri (festival) when the entire pond would be in bloom.
JR Hanazono Station (14 minutes from Kyoto Station on the Saiin Line)
Entrance to the grounds is 500 yen
Thursday, July 13, 2006
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