Sometimes everyone one needs to get away from the hustle and bustle of City life. Get away to a place where you can think, and be inspired.
There are an uncountable number of mountains that surround Kyoto and each one surely has something to offer. Today I went in search of a place that offered me a chance to “get inspired” and I was totally satisfied with the result.
Approximately, 15km from JR Kyoto Station heading north, is the Takao Mountain region. There are many Hiking and Trekking courses here, but today I was heading to one of the 17 World Heritage Sites of Kyoto, Kosan-ji Temple. Holding several Japanese Treasures and Culturally important artifacts, this temple is a gem in itself, but being surrounded by Kitahama large cedar trees and the whole temple grounds being practically covered in dense moss, you can take in so much fresh air. I purposely aimed to get there as early as possible, and by arriving at 0830 am, I had the privilege of having the Sekisui-in hall all to myself. Literally this Japanese National Treasure site was mine, and only mine to sit on the red felt floor, and take in the natural picture of the mountains and trees that was provided to me in front.
Built in 1216, this Halls also holds several National treasures in the likes of scrolls, drawn by the Monks of old. These scrolls are said to the first Japanese animation ever drawn in Japan. The scrolls called Choju-jinbutsu-giga are of monkeys, frogs and rabbits all in character form. If you have an interest in art or Japanese animation, this is the place. Within the grounds, there also is Japanese Oldest Tea field and walking the grounds in total silence, is bot something you can do everyday.
After Kosan-ji Temple, I just couldn’t stop. I headed back toward Kyoto, only to take another road into another mountain area in a different direction. I will not tell you how to get here, nor will I tell you the name of the temple, but after approximately another 15km of narrow and winding roads I was face to face with over 40 cm of snow, and the entrance to the temple that is known to many Kabuki actors as well as deep and true Ghibli animation fans. Set on the slopes of a mountain, once you go passed the Main Gate, you can feel you are in a totally different world. Inspiration just hits you, and as you look at the hills and rocks around you, it feels like something or someone is watching you. It just may have been the Fairies that are said to be here, or the Dragon that was once caught by the a King and bound inside a Rock cave.
Again, as I hoped, I was the only one there for at least 30 minutes (and the only other people I saw were a group of 5 University students. Of course the must sees, like The Golden Pavilion of Kyoto or Kiyomizedera Temple in Kyoto are great, but away from the hustle and bustle, and to be able to see a temple with so much spiritual feeling and such a sacred place, all by myself, just took me back. The story of the dragon being caught by a King to get back at a God that would not help him, is a main story told at Kabuki performances for many hundreds of years.
Even today the actors of Kabuki that act out this performance are said to come to this Temple to get permission before they perform. The dragon used to bring water and rain to Kyoto so everyone could live in harmony. Then one day the dragon was caught by a not so good King and bound to a rock cave. Kyoto then became very dry and no crops could be produced, and no rain fell. This could not be taken anymore so a princess came along and used her charm to get the King drunk. The princess then let free the dragon and once again rain was seen in Kyoto.
This temple is also the location, where the famous Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke was thought up. A famous writer came here and while staying overnight, he had a very spiritual encounter. That encounter was told to Miyazaki Hayao Director and the movie was based on this experience. The main location of the movie is often said to be Yakushima Island, but you can see some areas of this temple were also used in the animation movie. Even though it is prohibited to take photos beyond the main gate of the temple, this location gave me great inspiration, and I was amazed at how clearly I could think. It is also said, the more spiritually orientated you are, the better chance of seeing or feeling the dragon and fairies that are said to live in this area.
The last stop was Sanzen-in Temple, found yet in another mountain region of Kyoto. Heading to towards Lake Biwako (the largest lake in Japan), there is a little village area called Ohara. Here, you can find Sanzen-in Temple. Located some 20 km from Central Kyoto, here is another place you don’t have to worry about all the crowds. You can walk through the gardens on Sanzen-in leisurely, and you can take as many photos as you want without people being in those photos (Great if you don’t have Photoshop).
In the main temple you can see Culturally important artifacts and if you wanted, you can even have a Japanese Tea experience while sitting on the tatami mats while looking out in to the Japanese garden. Once out of the main building you can walk the extensive grounds which are covered completely in green, lush moss. Perhaps one of the main reasons (including me) to come to Sanzen-in, is to see the 4 or 5 tiny child-like statues or Jizo statues set amongst the moss gardens. There are several eating places, gift shops in Ohara, and if you go over the river, you can even have an Onsen (hot springs) experience.
If you have been to Japan or Kyoto before, or you just want to see somewhere without the crowds and get a little peace and quiet, you can find as much inspiration as you want in the likes of these places I went to today. A day I don’t want to forget anytime soon.