What Does a Golden Temple and a Zen Rock Garden Have in Common: The Two Most Popular Places for Contemplation and Reflection in Kyoto

Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

The two most popular temple sites in Kyoto seem to be opposites:  stunning versus serene, flashy versus quiet introspection.  The Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple and the famous Rock Garden at the Ryoanji Temple are just a few bus stops away from each other, located on the North West side of Kyoto. They are seemingly worlds apart, but in some ways these two temples have much in common. Both temples make your mind and thoughts pause to contemplate the beauty in nature. Both temples are Unesco World Heritage sites.

Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

The Golden Pavilion is both flashy and serene, located at a small reflection lake, surrounded by beautiful pine trees and poetically placed rocks. The Zen-Buddhist Temple was originally built as a retirement villa in 1393 for Shogun Ashiraga, who lived in abundant luxury while Kyoto’s people suffered from famine, earthquakes and plague. His son turned the pavilion into a Zen temple. Oddly, each floor features a different style of architecture: first floor contrasts the upper gilded floors by featuring the Shinden-Zukuri style architecture with solid black treated timber frame and white plaster. Second floor is gold leaf finished in Bukke style, similar to Samurai residences, whereas the third level features a Chinese Zen style gilded inside out. Sadly, the original temple was burned down by a disenchanted monk in 1950, but was rebuilt a few years later.

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto
Temple grounds at the Golden Pavilion, featuring pine trees trimmed to perfection

The Golden Pavilion cannot be visited inside, but the mesmerizing golden reflections of the pavilion in the  lake makes this a very poetic place worth visiting, although it gets a lot of visitors. Expect to take turns to photograph this poetic scenery and try to avoid selfie sticks. Walk around the reflection lake to admire the temple and its stunning reflections in the lake, but do not expect a contemplative spiritual experience. A path leads through the temple garden to an Edo period teahouse and small shrine near the exit.

Address: Kinkakuji Temple1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361. Tel: +81 75-461-0013. Admission: 400 Yen, open from 9am to 5pm.

The backside of the Golden Pavilion

On the other hand, the most famous of all Zen rock gardens at Ryoanji Temple, built in late 15th century, features a small, carefully composed miniature landscape of rocks arranged in gravel, which is raked to perfection by monks daily. It represent the endless ocean and ripples in water. Renowned for its simplicity and purity, this is the most abstract of all Zen Gardens. The garden is small, about the size of a tennis court, enclosed by ochre walls, and can only be seen from the raised deck of the temple. Visitors are seated on long steps facing the rock garden, lending a perfect space for meditation and introspection.

Zen Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. Fifteen rocks are meticulously placed in five islands surrounded by carefully raked gravel

The fifteen rocks of different sizes and shapes are meticulously placed in five different islands in such a way that you cannot see can see all rocks from any place. In this way they will always leaving room for improvement, as an aid to incite meditation about the true meaning of life.

Meditation and introspection at the steps facing the Rock Garden

The white gravel symbolizes water, purity, self-discipline and emptiness and is used to stimulate meditation by reducing nature to abstract form. A landscape seemingly suspended in time. A powerful abstract garden which is meant to induce a deep state of meditation which evokes thoughts of peace and beauty.

Meditation and reception hall facing the Rock Garden featuring tatami mats and decorated sliding screen walls

The meditation and reception halls facing the rock garden are very minimalist with their tatami mats and beautiful simply decorated sliding screens.

Address: 13 Ryoanji-Goryo-no-Sita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City. Tel.: +81-(0)75-463-2216. Open Year Round: Winter (December1-End of February) 8:30-16:30, (March 1-November 30) 8:00-17:00. Admission: Adult 500 Yen

Written by Zia Hansen. Photos by Zia Hansen

A Temporary Place Where Light, Geometry And Reflections Capture The Poetic Beauty Of Ocean And Place

Some of the best, most memorable experiences are temporary. In a fleeting moment, time comes and goes, as a reflection of what was, is, or could be.

Beacons of light
Beacons of light

For 3 days only, a quarter mile arc of seemingly ephemeral reflection poles embrace the ocean while reflecting it day and night. During day reflecting the white sand, the blue sky, clouds and ocean. At sunset they capture the beauty of the ocean and become beacons of light, changing colors minute by minute; at night they capture the glow of the city, traffic lights and moving cars. It is a truly engaging, captivating and moving art encounter. Tall square polished chrome poles are carefully measured, engineered and installed to all be emanating from the same vantage point in the ocean.

Reflecting time, space and light
Reflecting time, space and light
Seemingly a wall of reflection during sunset time at a certain vantage point
Seemingly a wall of reflection during sunset time at a certain vantage point

The ¼ Mile Arc art installation by artist Phillip K. Smith III embraces Laguna Beach for 3 days only, from November 4-6 as a commissioned installation of the Art & Nature Festival sponsored by Laguna Beach Art Museum. What a wonderful eye opening installation. Watching peoples surprising encounters, wonderment and photo explorations was mesmerizing. How I wish it could remain much longer than just 3 days. How I wish I could camp out on the beach day and night to capture each fleeting changing moment of time.  Sometimes the fleeting memories of passion and love enrich life forever, lights a tiny flickering candle of magic memory in your soul forever.

How fortunate we are to be able to experience this mesmerizing fleeting moment in time – and to have the opportunity to reflect, wonder and capture some of the moments for eternity.

During the sunset hour the markers become beacons of light, reflection the changing colors of the setting sun and ocean reflections
During the sunset hour the markers become beacons of light, reflection the changing colors of the setting sun and ocean reflections

 A temporary marker of changing light and reflections in Laguna Beach, a permanent marker in the soul of everyone who has experienced an hour of sunset with sandy toes – or a foggy morning embraced by a veil of mysterious beach fog.

A temporary spectacular seemingly ephemeral installation merges with the ocean – hurry up, grab your best friend and a camera and head to Laguna Beach at the Boardwalk, California. Open day and night for free for 3 days only, from November 4-6, 2016. Sponsored by Laguna beach Art Museum. Best time to watch the sunset is 5:45PM to 6:45PM.

Written by Zia Hansen. Photography by Zia Hansen