Kyoto Gardens

June 5, 2015

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One thing that Kyoto has in abundance is greenery, it’s surrounded by mountains on three sides and this is reflected in the people of Kyoto’s want to create an image of that grand nature in their personal gardens. The result is a huge number of temple and zen gardens dotted all over the city.

The aim of the garden is to take you through the stages of nature, and often a related stage of a person’s life, in order to take a journey of contemplation. They are designed so that you walk a certain route through and there are very little places to sit. It seems the designer of the garden wants you to experience it exactly as he intended (most of the gardens were designed around the 14th century when women didn’t get to do things like that). There are some breathtaking moments in these gardens, for example when you walk down a corridor of trees lined closely to the edge of the path, moss covers the ground, you turn the corner and there is a huge rock face with a lake at the bottom, trees are planted all the way up the rock face and around the lake, it seems like you’ve stumbled upon a secluded lake in a far away forest. There are so many aspects to these gardens and some of them take half a day to wander around properly but i’ll just break it down into sections for you. There are many.

Greenery

The gardens are inundated with greenery, everywhere you look you see plants, trees, and flowers. Especially in May, just after the cherry blossom during the first flush of greenery.

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Pretty lakes

As you can see just above, the lakes are filled with grasses, islands of trees, lily pads, and beautiful flowers. The areas around the lake are usually the most serene, normally being right in the centre of the garden away from any traffic noise. The croaking of frogs, the buzzing of insects, the gushing of the wind, the bubbling of the fish surfacing, and the splashing of a waterfall feature are the only sounds. Apart from the occasional camera shutter noise of course.

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Expansive views over water

These lakes are optimised by the routes leading right into the optimum spot to sit and gaze over the expanse of the water, often there’ll be beautiful reflections and, if you haven’t noticed already, a singular object or instances of brilliant colours on the other side of the lake to focus on.

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Paths through wooded areas made out of natural materials

Under foot is always natural, mainly rock and gravel with a few exceptions.

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The moss is particularly nice isn’t it.

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This adds an extra feature that i’m sure was also intentional. It creates a sound ornament when you walk around the garden. Sound ornaments in Japanese gardens are supposed to be monotonous and natural so that it forces you to focus on the finer points amongst those sounds and therefore meditate your mind into peace.

Water features

The other way that they create this sound ornament is copious use of water. I absolutely love the sound of running water, ever since I was young and i’d take trips to Dartmoor with my family. In the gardens there is running water everywhere and it runs at every speed in what i’m convinced is the product of meticulous planning.

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There are also the usual sound ornaments.

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Other temples have areas where you can take a little wash. It’s a bit cold though.

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I’m sure there’s supposed to be some significance of washing your sins but i’m afraid I don’t know. It wouldn’t work anyway. Thanks to Sophie for that shot. Great one.

Other architecture

There was some interesting architecture in around the temple structures and gardens, for example this fully working aqueduct. I’m pretty certain that it’s the only working aqueduct that i’ve ever seen. It’s fascinating to see technology that was developed in 312 BC by the Romans alive and working today.

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Wildlife

Japnese gardens are full of wildlife, mostly birds tweeting and insects buzzing around. Aquatic dwellers like fish, turtles, and frogs can also be seen.

You got any food mate?

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Oi! I’m hungry.

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Turtle bobbing around.

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hanging out with the buddies.

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The light

The light is very important in these gardens, I believe that they were supposed to be enjoyed most at certain times of day. The early evening light, which filters through the branches and the leaves, casts patterns on the floor and transforms everything with a soft golden hue.

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Long temple rooves

These long temple rooves, with grooves on the top side and long support beams on the underside are a common feature on temples here, they are very pleasing to look at.

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These ones were particularly impressive. Painted in red, green, blue, black, and gold.

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Raked gravel

There are certain areas, especially in zen gardens, where they use raked gravel to symbolise a number of things. Eternal life, mounds of salt to signify hard work, Mount Fuji. Someone rakes the gravel every morning to preserve the original design, It strikes me as pretty Japanese.

Here’s a few examples.

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That one is Fuji, the one below is supposed to evoke the sea meeting the land and swishing through the rocks as it does.

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Seemingly endless forested sections

At points in the trail you are faced with being at eye level with a regimented line of seemingly endless trees. It’s pretty overwhelming.

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In the west side of the city we came across the bamboo forest, It wasn’t so regimented however we both thought it was more spectacular and kind of creepy. No matter how many pictures you take, you can’t get the perspective of the sprawling forest. But here’s some to whet your appetite so that you want to go visit.

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Again, the light was pretty special in the dense forest.

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Easy to get lost and scared.

Views over the entire city

A common theme from the places that we visited, is that they are close to or on the mountains that skirt the city. Therefore when you get up to the top of the garden you can see all of Kyoto nestled in the valley.

Here’s the view from the west side.

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And the east.

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Views back over the temple buildings from high ground

The trees in the garden are layered upwards, so many times you can be standing and looking over the canopy at temple buildings poking out of the green. It’s really nice.

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Gardens seem endless when combined with nature around them

The boundaries of the gardens are fixed by wooden fences, but in many places the fences can’t be seen. The mountains in the background stretch out as far as you can see and the garden seems to be part of that. In Japanese they call this Jyu Kai which means ‘Sea of trees’ and it creates one of those great feelings of smallness as a human being. I think they did this to teach people to always feel humbled by nature.

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People

Most of all the gardens are well used by the people of Kyoto, it’s a public space like Londoners would use Hyde Park where people go to socialise and exercise. Their chatter adds an excited atmosphere and one of the garden being enjoyed the way it should.

Keep checking the soundcheck page as i’ll upload a recording of the gardens really soon.