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Notes on the Geography of Japan: Daitokuji

Though it has some monumental elements, Daitokuji is the most understated of the Kyoto temples shown here.  That's because its monumental elements are surrounded by a cluster of exceedingly simple and self-effacing sub-temples.

Daikokuji is a center for the Rinzai Zen sect, which began to flourish with the rise to power of the samurai in the 12th century. The main temple was established by the priest Shuho Myocho, who is said to have lived with Kyoto beggars for 20 years. It was completely destroyed in 1468, then rebuilt. The sub-temples were established during the following century; they flourished during the Tokugawa Shogunate but suffered after the Meiji Restoration, with its support for Shinto. Now, with each open sub-temple charging an entrance fee of four or five dollars, Daitokuji is doing very well, thank you.

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Japan: Daitokuji picture 1

Path to Ryogen-in sub-temple.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 2

Inside a dry garden (karesansui, literally "lacking mountain or water"), with artfully chosen stones, meticulously raked gravel, and bordering or included moss.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 3

Totekiko: said to be the smallest rock garden of all.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 4

The figure here is called "a-un," or "inhale- exhale." It's emblematic of lots of other polarities, too, not least yin and yang.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 5

Isshidan, with gravel representing the sea while the stones and moss garden represent Crane and Tortoise islands, which is to say positive and negative.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 6

The garden at Daisen-in ("Great Hermit") sub-temple shows a ship at sea.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 7

To the left: a tempestuous cluster of islands and torrents stands at the edge of the sea.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 8

A bit slower.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 9

A single stone, still in Daisen-in.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 10

The sub-temple buildings are all modest wooden structures that seem as much outdoors as in.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 11

How's this garden (it's Zuihoin) for drama? It's enough to make you look around for a lifeboat.

Japan: Daitokuji picture 12

Calm down. Amazing, what a couple of sticks can do.


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