I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

西芳寺Saihouji (苔寺Kokedera) = Moss Temple

Last Monday (2/12) was a national holiday, and on the day off Katie surprised me by taking us to Saihouji. The temple was originally built in the 8th century (between 729-749 during the Tempyo Era of the Nara Period) by a priest named Gyogi Bosatsu (or Gyoki––please bear with me, different sources have different spellings), and restored later in the 14th century by a Zen Buddhist monk and landscaper, Muso Kokushi (or Soseki). The gardens were not intended to have moss, but in the past couple hundred years over 120 varities of moss have claimed ownership of the temple, renaming Saihouji popularly as Kokedera (苔 =Koke= moss). Saihouji is the epitmoe of the Japanese garden, and the scarcity of people added to its enchanting nature. Unlike other temples, Saihouji only allows in a handful of guests each day, in order to protect the fragile moss gardens. When you go to Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji, or Kiyomizudera, as with most places in Japan, you are almost always in an audience––hardly the picture of serenity I would imagine. In order to preserve their haven, the caretakers of Saihouji recognized that they cannot admit masses to flood in and disturb its balance. In order to go, Katie had to write a postcard a few weeks prior, and wait for a written invitation. I am very happy she took that time to get us permission to visit. It was a wonderful experience I'm afraid I can only express via the photographs we took.

A few other fun points about the visit...
To begin, we participated in the mid-day prayer with the Saihouji monks. It was a little too fast for me to keep up with, even though we had a written copy of the chant before us (written in Japanese). Also, before touring the gardens we painted (is that the right verb for calligraphy writing?) wishes on wooden prayer sticks. I remember telling myself to remember the wish, so that I could convey it to others, but guess what?... I forgot! It had something to do with humans recognizing the potential of their hearts and minds. Wow, does that lack prophetical power. Oh well, maybe it will come true anyway. It seems like if you want a wish to come true you should pursue it and repeat it with the hopes of seeing it come to life. Next time I blow out the candles, I'm not keeping any secrets! Here, I'll try to repeat the magic words:
"(The goal in life is)For all humans to realize the extent of their heart and mind's powers and live accordingly, responsibly."

One more unique feature of Saihouko is that the garden ponds are shaped like the Chinese character 心 = kokoro/shin= heart. Unfortunately I am not tall enough to take an arial-view photo, but maybe I will be able to find one online. If so, I will include it...

I do have included a link to information about the temple below. I am remiss to say that after researching many sites online, Wikipedia is the best I could come up with. But anything that I state on my blog is probably more accurate––I got the information directly from monks at Saihouji. I'm not trying to brag, I'm just saying...well, it's true isn't it?

  • Wikipedia's details on Saihouji/Kokudera


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