Kōdai-ji Temple, a Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, is located at the foot of Higashiyama Ryozen Mountains. It is officially called Kodaiji- jushozenji Temple. The temple was established in 1606 by Kita-no-Mandokoro or simply known as Nene in the memory of her husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. We entered through the main building and entered a beautifully landscaped “tsukiyama”, traditional style garden featuring a pond, man- made hills, decorative rocks and beautiful pine and maple trees. The maples were just turning colour. The landscape was designed by Kobori Enshū, an aristocrat and tea ceremony master.
Oddly and regrettably, we failed to enter the main hall, “hondo”. Thus, we missed the large “karesansui”, dry garden and its impressive gilded interior. We, in fact, sat on the exterior of the hall and viewed the traditional garden only. Beyond this impressive garden, is the “Kaisan-dō”, Founders Hall, and on the left is a small and narrow raised wooden platform with four pillars, “Kangetsu-dai”, Moon Viewing Pavilion, designed to view the moon reflected on the surface of the man-made pond. Beyond that, on the right of Kaisan-dō, the pointed thatched roof of “Otama- ya”, Sanctuary, on a mountain is visible. There was a great sense of space, between the building, which was mostly hidden behind the wonderfully landscaped garden and the natural greenery of the hills and mountains. Furthermore, unlike in Kiyomizu- dera, the crowds here were minimal. This certainly allowed for a tranquil stroll, unhurried. Yes, there are hundreds of temples within Kyōto, but all seem to give an opportunity to individuals’ solitude, to slow down and just be in the present. Simply, to see and absorb the simple pleasures of the surroundings! Walking a few meters, the perspective of the views changed. The powers of a Zen Garden I suppose.
Beside Kaisan-dō, trees lean towards Garyo-chi pond. The maples were just beginning to change into the majestic reddish and yellowish colours. We were just early about two weeks perhaps. I can only imagine the riot of colours in these mountains.
Pines, both tall and small, added appeal with their structural shapes. The garden – cut, clipped, pared, cropped, shaped and trimmed were absolutely pleasing and superb. A narrow wooden passageway with tiled roof, “Garyo- ro”, Lying dragon corridor, connected Kaisan-dō and Otamaya. Hereon, it was a slow uphill walk on steps towards the top of the hill. The impressive exterior of Otamaya Hall was intricately crafted with gilded lacquer work, mainly gold and blue. The roof was made from thatched grass. Similar work continued in the interior. This hall is a mausoleum for Hideyoshi and Nene. Continuing on, we reached a couple of wooden buildings, tea houses, Shower Hut, “Shigure-tei”, a unique two storied tea ceremony house and “Kasa- tei”, Umbrella Hut, both designed by the master, Sen no Rikyu. The outer fringe of this Zen temple complex is a path through dense thickets of tall lime green bamboo groove.
Back at the entrance, Ryozen-Kannon, a huge white Buddha statue and the towering Hokanji Pagoda with a greenish- bluish roof, can be viewed. We descended on stone steps, Daidokoro- zaka, that connected Nene-no- Michi Street and Kodai- ji. There we visited a newer complex, Kodaiji Sho Museum and a small shrine. It was late afternoon. We continued our walk on enchanting flagstone Nene- no-Michi path, towards Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine.