Temple-hopping (or: the temples are hopping)

Saturday, November 15, 2008 - 12:38 PM

It's high season in Kyoto -- this weekend, the autumn colors are at their brightest and it seems like the whole country plus several others have converged on the city to take a look.  Luckily, there are dozens of temples (probably a dozen 'major' ones alone) with gorgeous landscapes and plenty of leaves to go around.  Locals are so serious about this stuff that they know which temples will be in full color to the day.  On one such recommendation, I hit three temple complexes on the city's east side (at the base of the Higashimaya mountains), and 300 photos later (my bad) I was deliciously spent.   The oranges and reds I saw today (and couldn't adequately capture on camera) make New England's leaves look tame -- particularly because they aren't set against the backdrop of 400-year old sculpted tile roofs and arched footbridges.  It's as if the temple grounds were designed to highlight the beauty of the leaves' decay.

 

the interior gardens are ringed by a little ledge, on which you can sit and gaze...

Nanzen-ji's interior gardens are ringed by a little ledge, on which you can sit and gaze...

 

The Nanzen-ji grounds are one postcard after another.

The Nanzen-ji grounds are one postcard after another.

 

You're probably thinking, 'it's just leaves.'  And initially, I was too.  But I surprised myself with how moved I was by the colors, the shapes, and the way they effortlessly, asymmetrically, and somehow perfectly complimented each other.   Beautiful, intimate, and fleeting: maybe I'm finally wrapping my head around the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi.   To me, this felt more profound than what was going on inside the temples -- something that needed to be savored and revered.

- Jenny Lawton

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