There being such a wealth of options to take in in Kyoto I found myself back there for a day and night on my way through to Okayama from Kanazawa. I’m glad I did as I managed to take in some more wonderful landscapes at two more temples, namely Gingakuji and Dotakuji. I came to visit these particular temples via disparate sources of information and they proved to be equally disparate in their garden styles....

Thought the main reason for this blog is to discuss design ideas and concepts arising from the trip, there are always many other experiences going on in the background. I tend to read quite a lot, though this depends a lot on the location! So it is I’m reading some Hemingway, an old favourite whose very unique writing style can be quite infectious when re-living experiences…

…. I entered the dimly lit Izakaya, though clean, of a gloomy nature and I thought it should be nice to drink a whiskey as whiskey is good and warming and outside was cold, though well lit. The barman stood shrouded in the golden light of one fluorescent bulb which made me think of the messiah, which was unusual me being atheist, but that did not matter as first impression is everything and who am I to try to change that.

“One whiskey?” I asked.

“Ei!” the barman responded and it seemed to me it was an over exaggerated response but that is the nature of the people. I reminded myself to not judge lest thee be judged but I am an atheist so judging others comes naturally.

“Ei!” called the barman bowing slightly and sharply and he placed the whiskey in front of me. At that moment I caught his eye, as I fully intended to do and it startled me that he had understood everything I had just thought because I was thinking with my mind and my mind was written clearly in my eyes. It startled me at first but I quickly regained composure and reasoned that as I had promised myself to use an open mind it was natural for someone to see it.

The fluorescent bulb seemed to lighten and the inside of me warmed with the whiskey. It was a pleasant warmth and a good whiskey.

“Good whiskey,” I said to the barman.

“Ei!” he bowed , lower this time and I lost his eye but it didn’t matter as he knew how I thought and knew I wouldn’t change so he remained of the same nature.

Outside the buildings rose sharply around me like sentinels, but bright sentinels and exceptionally clean and well built sentinels though of strange design. It didn’t affect me that I walked in a foreign place before these sentinels as it had before because I had opened my mind and it had been read and I felt liberated.

It was a cool night but calm……


Maintenance boy meticulously replacing a small area of moss. Piece by tiny piece, removed as part of some general garden work.

What was great about today was taking the time and having the opportunity to see some of the background work that goes into the exceptionally structured landscapes in Japan. It helped give perspective to the work and time required to manipulate nature in such a way. As the main reason for this trip is to observe and study the landscape design of some other cultures and manipulate that into a design style useable both at home in Perth and elsewhere, I am conscious that however the design presents, there will be construction and maintenance to consider. 


I am not sure of the cost of labour here for the highly technical tree pruning required to keep the trees trimmed, nor for general garden maintenance such as shown in a previous image. But I do know that it takes 3 guys a couple of hours to prune a fairly small tree in the particular Japanese style. Typical labour rates in Perth, let alone finding anyone with the expertise to do it correctly, make that almost an untenable prospect for any but the wealthiest garden owner. Food for thought when considering the design fit for new clients…


Ginkakuji Temple garden is established on a steep hillside in the North-East of Kyoto. A traditional stroll garden by design with Zen elements it surrounds the Zen temple built in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, a Morumachi Shogunate. Though one of the smaller stroll gardens visited this was a very well maintained garden with quite unique Zen raked gravel sections and steep bamboo lines stone paths weaving their way up the mountain. The raked bed known as Ginsyadan as shown in the image below, purportedly represents waves on the ocean, but to me it was reminiscent of a carefully plowed rice field omnipresent throughout Japan. There is also a large 1.5m high perfectly round mound of white sand adjacent to this called Kogetsudai which represents Mt Fuji. Though visually striking and beautifully shaped, I found the mound was too imposing on the surrounding landscape and not well balanced in size or shape with those surrounds. 



In contrast to Ginkakuji, Dotakuji was designed as recently as 1939 by landscape ‘sculptor’ Shigemori Mirei. It is unique amongst temple gardens in being the only one to circumscribe all four sides of the Hojo or main hall. It is considered a contemporary example of Zen design, particularly the Western garden which juxtaposes squarely trimmed Azaleas with curved beds of moss and raked gravel. It is interesting that the design of all four sides presents with an abstract, even slightly European feel in parts, but is still deeply rooted in the Zen concepts of symbolism and harmony.

The main garden on the Southern side had a very well balanced combination elements representing physical aspects of Buddhist legend.  The 5 large moss covered mounds symbolising “Gozan”, the 5 sacred mountains, were particularly interesting. It is common with the main gardens around the Temple halls to have the quite harsh (though still harmonius!) raked gravel beds softened by areas of moss and at least one tree within the confines of the yard walls. Often this is simply including imagery for the sea and the land, but I suspect that it also added a soft visual aspect to the garden to help it ‘feel’ right for those living there.


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