Kyoto's Shosei-en Garden is a traditional Japanese formal garden affiliated with its much larger neighbor to the west, Higashi Honganji Temple; both are part of the Shinshu Otani-ha sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The garden is a ten-minute walk from Kyoto Station, and two blocks from the aforementioned Higashi Hoganji.
It is thought to have been built in the ninth century on the Heian Period site of Prince Minamoto Notoru’s mansion. Minamoto was the son of the Emperor Saga. In 1641, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the land including the garden to nearby Higashi Honganji. Two years later, the leaders of Higashi Honganji commissioned Ishiyama Saijo to design and construct a garden. This is what became Shosei-en.
Fires in 1858 and 1864 burnt the walls and interior structures to the ground. They were thereafter restored, and in 1938 designated a National Historic Site.
Within the grounds, there are several tea houses, a large pond, a small waterfall, many stone lanterns, and trees and plants that are in bloom throughout the year.
After entering the main gate, the first building on your left is Rinchi-tei. It fronts a small pond and the falls, and features classic austere Japanese design elements: sloped roof with tiles, an engawa porch overlooking the pond, and open rooms with tatami flooring.
Next to it is the Roan Tea House, with its sign warning to watch out for the “bee.” Directly in front of the tea house is Anrido Hall, famed for its painted fusuma screens.
Last is the pond itself. The Snow-capped Bridge at left clearly brings to mind Monet and the Japonesque boom of the late-19th-century. The Chinese-corridor style Bridge is also a marvel of subtlety (above right).
Visiting in mid-January had the benefit having the grounds almost completely to oneself. The reason for that was, aside from a few camellias, little was in bloom. Next month, though, the plum trees will blossom. They will be followed by snow willows, in March, and then cherry trees in April. Azaleas come out in May, water lilies in the summer, bush clover in September and October, and the fall maples in November.
Admission: 500 yen is requested
From Kyoto Station, walk north two blocks on Karasuma Dori to Higashi Honganji Temple. Turn right on Nanajo Dori and head east. After two blocks, turn left and head north for a block.
Hours: 9:00 am - 4 pm
Friday, January 19, 2007
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