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2013 photos
Daitokuji Zen Buddhist Temple

Kyoto, Japan

Founded in 1509, Daitokujiis a large walled temple complex which consists of nearly two dozen subtemples and is one of the best places in Japan to see a wide variety of Zen gardens and to experience Zen culture and architecture.

Daitokuji was founded in 1319 and like most of Kyoto suffered severe damage during the Onin War (1467-1477). After its reconstruction, the temple grew into a center of the tea ceremony.

Daitokuji's main buildings (the Sanmon Gate, Butsuden Hall, Hatto Hall and Hojo Residence) are lined up on the east side of the temple grounds according to the classical layout of a Zen monastery.

Daisenin also features beautiful rock gardens, which wrap around the temple building and are considered among of the best examples of their kind. Ryogenin features as many as five different dry landscape gardens on each side of its main building. The largest of them consists of a field of raked white gravel representing the universe, and islands of rocks and moss representing a crane and a turtle, symbols of longevity and health commonly found in Japanese gardens.

Entrance gate (mon)

Another gate (mon) ... Note end tiles on ceramic roof at right (photo below:)

End tiles

Trees, shrubs, lawns and flowers of all kinds are used in Japanese gardens. Plants, such as maple and cherry trees, are often chosen for their seasonal appeal and are expertly placed to emphasize these characteristics. Conversely, pine trees, bamboo and plum trees are held in particular esteem for their beauty during the winter months when other plants go dormant. Mosses are also used extensively, with over a hundred species appearing at Kokedera alone.

Stone lantern ... Note moss

Note roof ornaments (photo below:)

Onigawara (protective demon) ceramic (fired) tile ... Black kawara tiles

Butsudan: shrine commonly found in temples and homes 

Hanging scroll - detail below:

Hanging scroll - detail

Zen monk

Stone lantern


Zen garden
At the beginning of the Kamakura Period a shift of power from the aristocratic court to the military elite was completed. The military rulers embraced the newly introduced Zen Buddhism, which would exert a strong influence on garden design. Gardens were often built attached to temple buildings to help monks in meditation and religious advancement rather than for recreational purposes.

Gardens also became smaller, simpler and more minimalist, while retaining many of the same elements as before, such as ponds, islands, bridges and waterfalls.

Zen garden

Stones, Gravel and Sand
Since ancient times, stones have played an important role in Japanese culture. In Shinto, prominent large stones are worshiped as kami, while gravel was used to designate sacred grounds. Meanwhile, dry gardens are comprised entirely of stones, with larger stones symbolizing mountains, islands and waterfalls, while gravel and sand replace water.

Zen garden ... Overhanging eaves

Photos and their arrangement 2013 Chuck LaChiusa
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