The most zen part of our self-guided tour of Kyoto.
After a few luxurious hot spring baths on the first leg of his Kyoto tour, our reporter Egawa Tasuku was ready to tackle one of Kyoto city’s top attractions: its abundance of historic shrines and temples. .
For the second part of our Ready for Kyoto: Zen and Hot Springs tour through Kyoto, sponsored by Japan Rail, Egawa visited Taikou-in Temple, a temple that is not normally open to the public except during this time. He had also had a zazen meditation experience at Manpuku-ji Temple, and a lesson on how to make matcha incense at Koushou-ji temple.
So let’s join Egawa for his first stop, the Taikou-in temple.
▼ The door does not offer a preview of how it looks inside, which makes it all the more exclusive.
Upon entering the gate, Egawa was met by a path lined with moss. Coupled with the architecture, it looked so traditional Japanese that it made him a bit nervous.
▼ It was like a portal to the past.
▼ At the end of the path was a pristine Zen garden.
Upon entering the main building of Taikou-in, Egawa encountered a sliding door mural by famous Japanese painter of the Edo period, Kanou Tan’yuu. His work can also be found in other parts of Kyoto, such as the Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle grounds.
▼ This screen is to the right of the entrance, and the left side also has a mural.
▼ And in front of him was the high altar.
▼ This plate explains the details of the folding screens, relics of the Date samurai clan.
The tour also included a visit to the Taikou-in teahouse. We have been given special permission to take photos, but if you are going on this tour please be aware that the general public will not be able to take video or even see the room at all in some cases.
▼ The teapots were placed in the middle of the room, in a small recess in the floor.
▼ Further on, the teahouse looks like this.
During the tour, Egawa learned that this teahouse had seen people like the Japanese daimyo lords Kuroda Nagamasa, Kato Kiyomasu, and Fukushima Masanori, each from the late Sengoku to early Edo periods.
▼ Egawa found it interesting that a window was integrated into the ceiling.
Maybe for protection or just to let in more sun.
▼ And of course, Egawa had to get the official goshiun temple stamp. Many people collect them in stamp books.
Egawa was pumped and excited when he entered the temple, but the longer he spent there, the sharper and calmer his senses became. Everything was so perfectly laid out and built that it felt like anyone could become more focused and serious while visiting here.
▼ Even the roof looked sullen.
And with that, it was time to move on to the second part of his Kyoto Ready: Zen and Hot Springs tour – a zazen meditation experience at Manpuku-ji temple.
▼ The architectural style of this temple was very different from the others, and for a reason.
Manpuku-ji is known in the world of Buddhism as the main temple of the Oubaku-shu school of Buddhism. This school originated in China, and this is reflected in the extravagant and spacious architecture.
▼ Outside you may see the monks walking around.
▼ The interior is equally dazzling decoratively.
Inside, Egawa was trained in all things zazen– related, like why zazen temples are decorated in a certain way, molding the arhat statue (of one who has attained nirvana), and more.
There were so many things that Egawa was visually interested in that it would be impossible to condense them into one article, so here are some of the main things that caught his eye.
▼ First of all, the giant fish.
These are called Kaipan, and they ring when struck. This happens in the daily routines and rituals of monks. Since they are hit in the same place every time, the middle of the fish is often a different color than the rest of his body. The bullet in her mouth represents the expulsion of Kleshas – “toxic” mental states that cloud judgment – when struck.
Then it was time for a real guided experience zazen meditation. Egawa was moved to another area of the temple. He had seen it on television before, but this was the first time he had tried it.
▼ This area of the temple was lined with padded benches.
Each seating position had two cushions, and Egawa was instructed first to fold the top cushion in half and then sit on it. He thought it was done on a flat sitting position, so he was a little surprised.
▼ He then learned the correct way to sit for a zazen meditation, which consisted of crossing one’s legs with both soles facing upwards.
It wasn’t the usual criss-cross apple sauce that Egawa thought he had to sit down. However, his instructor let him sit in the usual cross-legged position for this lesson because the proper manner was too difficult for him.
▼ Meditation isn’t all fun and games, though.
During the explanation of zazen meditation, Egawa was told that there was no problem moving during meditation, but with a catch. You cannot move normally or you will get a warning monks. However, if you move your hands in a certain way followed by an arc, you are technically allowed to move.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, according to Egawa), our fellow reporter didn’t get a chance to use that specific hand gesture to see if he’d be caught by the Monk Police. Since it was a short experience course, it was over before he knew it.
For those who want the full experience, there is another tour plan that offers a full zazen experience at Manpuku-ji temple, followed by Buddhist temple food and a goshuin buffer at the end.
And then he left for the last leg of the tour: Koushouji Temple. Egawa was ready to make matcha incense. First, he had to climb a hill called Kotozaka to get there.
▼ This path climbs 200 meters (650 feet) to the entrance of the main temple.
▼ In autumn, the path leading to the main temple is famous for its foliage.
▼ This temple also had a giant fish that was so downcast that it had a hole in the middle. Yeah.
▼ It doesn’t take long before the other side wears out too.
One thing Egawa liked about this temple was that you could get a glimpse into the daily life of the monks that you normally couldn’t get at other temples.
▼ For example, their kitchen is visible!
And if you have already read the famous Japanese literary work, The Tale of Genjiyou might enjoy this fun fact: this statue of Tenarai Kannon is said to have been imported from the Tenarai-no-mori forest mentioned in the story.
▼ A piece of real and literary history exhibited to the public? Pretty cool, it has to be said.
▼ The outside gardens are also immaculate.
After hearing about the many interesting things on display in the temple, Egawa was invited into a room to begin the process of making incense. He didn’t know what to expect. As an introduction to the lesson, the instructor explained to them the different ways a piece of incense can be scented.
▼ Some release their fragrance when lit, some when simply warmed up, and some are fragrant at room temperature.
Egawa only knew the type of incense that gave off its scent when lit, so he was thrilled to find out that they were going to create a new type for him – one that only requires warming up.
The materials to make it were much simpler than he imagined: matcha powder, ground tree powder and water. That’s it!
▼ A possible DIY project at home?
Tree powder is ground from the Japanese laurel, a tabunoki. This type of tree lines the streets of the area, so it makes sense that they get what’s closest to them. Egawa was amazed that all you had to do was shave the tree a bit and you would have a vital component to make incense.
With all of its ingredients understood, Egawa got to work. He started by carefully mixing matcha and tree powder.
▼ Make sure you don’t confuse this with your morning cuppa.
▼ Then he added the water and kneaded it into a kind of incense clay.
The last step was to place it in a wooden mold on which was inscribed a pretty sentence: Sou da, Kyoto ni ikouor “Yes, let’s go to Kyoto”.
▼ Let’s ignore the fact that he was already in Kyoto.
They had a ton of other molds on top of that, so Egawa picked a few he liked and ended up with five little pieces of matcha incense.
▼ Which one is your favorite?
The main thing to keep in mind during this class is to start with the shape you really want to create and then work your way down. You may not have enough clay to do everything you want, so choose wisely!
▼ Or you might end up with an extra, like Egawa.
Of all the day’s activities, the incense workshop cleared Egawa’s mind the most. The 30 minute experience went by in a flash. You will appreciate it especially if you like to work with clay!
▼ You can also buy an incense heater from the class shop.
And so ended Egawa Ready for Kyoto: Zen and Hot Springs tour sponsored by Japan Rail. From hot springs to temples, he enjoyed every minute of it.
But to be honest, the thing that left the most lasting impression on him was the moment he walked out of Koushou-ji Temple. When he turned around…
▼ … a monk was right there, sending it!
Egawa was the only one there at the time, and while there was no guarantee he would turn around to recognize the monk, he was there. This is an example of what Egawa would say is omotenashior provide a welcoming spirit.
▼ It made him feel special that someone came out just for him.
▼ “I’m going to miss you, Mr. Monk!” »
This sort of thing normally happens in service industries like restaurants, hair salons, etc., but he didn’t expect it to happen alone in a famous Buddhist temple. How touching! That’s what sealed Egawa’s deal: he fell completely in love with Kyoto, to the point that he considered extending his trip.
▼ And in winter, you can even see beautiful temple snows.
Needless to say, Egawa would recommend this trip to anyone who wants to visit Kyoto. It may not be the best time in terms of rising coronavirus cases, but when things calm down, this should be the first place you visit!
Related: Totonou Campaign Site
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