This week’s article is about another of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We’re going to one of the old capital of Kyoto’s seventeen World Heritage Sites. That’s right – seventeen!

There’s no other city in the world with 17 world heritage sites and there may well be other places in Kyoto worthy of that designation. It’s truly a wonderful city steeped in history. This week’s article is about Tenryu-ji Temple located in the Arashiyama area in western Kyoto. Tenyu-ji was the first temple in Japan I visited with someone besides my wife Kayo. She and I went back to Japan in 1964 for the first time, six years after we were married. I enjoyed a good relationship with all of Kayo’s family, but her sister’s husband, Kazuo, became a special friend. 

He spoke little English and I didn’t do much better with Japanese, but we both smiled, pointed and carried our dictionary and enjoyed visiting many temples and gardens across Kyoto, starting with Tenryu-ji which was built about 1339 AD and is one of Kyoto’s premier Zen temple and garden. In 1997 the main hall of the temple complex underwent a major renovation to commemorate the 650th anniversary of Tenryu-ji. In 1899 the ceiling of the main hall was adorned with a large painting of a cloud dragon and as part of the 650th anniversary in 1997 a new cloud dragon was painted on the ceiling. 

The seven major buildings in the compound constitute the “seven halls” that make up an ideal Zen monastic compound. The veranda of the main hall overlooks Sogenchi Garden which was the first place in Japan to be designated by the Japanese Government as a site of Special Historic and Scenic Importance. The large and beautiful garden is designated as a strolling pond garden with a path around the garden giving visitors an opportunity to appreciate the scenery from different perspectives. 

Views looking across the pond to the west include the mountains to the west and are viewed as shakkei or borrowed scenery in that the mountains appear to be part of the garden giving it added depth. Looking as the pond’s edge directly across from the main hall one sees a collection of large standing rocks. The upright or standing rocks suggest some Chinese influence in the construction of the garden since rocks in Japanese gardens are usually laid horizontally and, in fact, represent the Dragon Gate Falls, a waterfall on the Yellow River in China. To the west of the pond, the landscape becomes very hilly with several walking trails which provides beautiful cherry blossom viewing in the spring and fire-engine-red Japanese maple foliage in the fall. Tenryu-ji is truly worthy of its designation as a World Heritage Site and is worthy of a visit in any season.



Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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