Turning Japanese (Part II - The Imperial Capitals)

I didn't just concentrate on individual plants on this trip, but gardens as well.  

From the Osaka Castle, we took a train to Nara which was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784.  Its historic monuments, as a whole, are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Several of the buildings were undergoing restoration but I still enjoyed what we got to see.  It was a leisurely afternoon walk around the city and even the children enjoyed themselves.  

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We first visited the Gojunoto (5-story pagoda) in the Kofukuji Temple Complex.  The pagoda was built by Empress Komyoh in 725 although the Kofukuji Temple itself was founded in 669.  It is the second highest pagoda in Japan. Wait i have to google the highest pagoda in Japan.

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We then moved on to Todai-ji (Great Eastern Temple), built as the head temple of all Buddhists in 752.  Its main gate, Nandaimon (Great Southern Gate) was built in the 13th century.  Note the deer roaming around.  Because of legends, the deer have been and are regarded as heavenly animals that protect the city and the country.  They are quite numerous and roam freely around Nara.  One of them is probably a patronus spell from Professor Snape.  There's not a feeling of gloom at all.

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Todai-ji's main temple building, Dalbutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) is allegedly the largest wooden building in the world.  Unfortunately, because of earthquakes, the remaining building is said to be only two-thirds its original size.  I still found it very impressive.

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The temple gardens were serene despite of all the tourists.

The sunset was breathtaking.

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The next day, we took another train to Kyoto.  Our first stop was at the Amida-do Hall of Nishi Hongwanji (Temple of the Original Vow).  Nishi Hongwanji was built in 1591 and is the head temple of the Jodo-Shin sect of Buddhism.  The hall is dedicated to Amida Buddha, the sect's most important Buddha.

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Most interesting to me was a gingko tree in the courtyard.  The tour guide said it was between 400 to 500 years old!  It is very reminiscent of the whomping willow in the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

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Look at its massive trunk. Seems eerie and haunting.

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Look at how gorgeous it is when it is not winter.Nishi Honganji Ginkgo Tree by geraldford, on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Second stop was the home of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Nijo Castle.  Within the 275,000 square meters of the castle, is the 3,300 square meter Ninomaru Palace.  it was built in 1603 and is made entirely of Hinoki cypress and its interiors are made of gold leaf and wall paintings.  Since it can easily burn down, there is no attached kitchen, no electricity nor any form of heating.

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Along the side of the building is the path to the one acre Ninomaru Gardens.

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The Ninomaru garden was designed by landscape architect, Kobori Enshu (1579-1647) who was also known for establishing Japan's tea ceremony.  Below is a view of the garden from the Ohiroma (Audience Hall) from which it was meant to be seen.

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The garden is of shoin zukuri style. In the center of the pond is a large island known as Horai-jima or The Island of Eternal Happiness.  At its sides are two islands: Tsuru-jima or Crane Island and Kame-jima or Turtle Island).

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The garden was really designed to make a visitor feel the Tokugawa shogun's power.  There are rare plants, water features and enormous rocks.

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What caught my interest was the way they provided winter protection to a clump of Cycasrevoluta (Sago Palm).  The following pictures are worth a thousand words -- or at least a hundred.

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Last but definitely not least was our visit to Kinkaku-ji, more easily remembered as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, whose history dates back to 1397.  This was originally the villa residence of another shogun but it became a temple after his death.

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The design of garden complex is an example of the Muromachi bakufu (the era from 1336 to 1573).  North of the golden pavilion is the Kinugasa-yama mountain and to its south is the Kyoko-chi pond (Mirror Pond, see the reflection of the pavilion).  At the foreground is the only snow that we found.  My daughter called it "leftover snow" because it was from the week before.

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Within the pond are eight islands or huge rocks that were donated by feudal lords. Do  you see the fishing deck of the pavillion?

The pavilion was previously open to visitors, however, that is no longer the case.  Now, only royalty and presidents are allowed inside.

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Finally, I end this post with a plant.  This was the ground cover on the temple grounds.  I am not sure what kind of moss it is but I am leaning towards Polytrichum sp.  Either P. commune which is the most common moss in Japan or P. formosum which is also common in the gardens of Kyoto.  I would really appreciate it if someone can help me distinguish characteristics.