Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

When we entered Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, we discovered a field trip of local elementary school children whose assignment was to sketch their interpretations of the Saku

When we entered Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, we discovered a field trip of local elementary school children whose assignment was to sketch their interpretations of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in full bloom

 

A flourishing castle town during the Edo period (1603-1867), Takamatsu today is the capital of Japan’s smallest prefecture, Kagawa.  Although the feudal castle (one of just three seaside citadels in Japan) was destroyed during the Meiji Period, its venerable landscape garden, Ritsurin Koen (Ritsurin Garden) is one of the nation’s most celebrated.  The workshop and part-time home of the late Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese-American sculptor, designer, and architect famous for his work with wood, is also nearby.  The nearby islands, particularly Naoshima, are the home to strikingly designed modern art museums that are as interesting to see as the contemporary art they house.

 

We found that Japanese of all ages enjoy and celebrate the short Sakura season which marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring and a revival of life and spirits, Ritsurin Garden,

We found that Japanese of all ages enjoy and celebrate the short Sakura season which marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring and a revival of life and spirits, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

Ritsurin Garden, a national “Special Place of Scenic Beauty”, is a superb Japanese cultural asset that conveys the characteristics of the daimyo strolling gardens that were typically seen in the 17th and 18th centuries.  A daimyo strolling garden is a type of traditional Japanese garden in which ponds and hills are expertly constructed over a vast tract of land.  Visitors can enjoy the garden’s space as they leisurely walk around. Ritsurin Garden is celebrated as one of Japan’s largest and most beautiful pine gardens with approximately 1,400 well-tended trees and floral species blooming throughout the year.  Construction began in 1625 and took over a century to complete, resulting in a delightful landscape of 13 rounded hills and six ponds linked by pathways and elegant arching bridges, sprawling 185 acres / 75 hectares.  Ritsurin Garden opened to the public on March 16, 1875, and received France’s Michelin Guide’s highest rating of three stars in 2009.

 

One of the school children proudly let me photograph the initial part of his pencil sketch of Sakura, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

One of the school children proudly let me photograph the initial part of his pencil sketch of Sakura, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) just after full bloom, with some petals now forming a “snow blanket” on the ground as the wind began to blow the mature blossoms off the trees, Ritsurin Gard

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) just after full bloom, with some petals now forming a “snow blanket” on the ground as the wind began to blow the mature blossoms off the trees, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

Sakura reflected in the Fuyo-sho (lotus) pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan; note that in the summer about 1,000 lotuses can be seen in bloom covering the pond_s surface

Sakura reflected in the Fuyo-sho (lotus) pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan; note that in the summer about 1,000 lotuses can be seen in bloom covering the pond’s surface

 

A small island in Gun_o-chi pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

A small island in Gun’o-chi pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

Sakura reflected in Gun_o-chi pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

Sakura reflected in Gun’o-chi pond, Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

Construction of Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, began in 1625 and took over a century to complete; the hills and ponds are very important components in the overall beauty and

Construction of Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, began in 1625 and took over a century to complete; the hills and ponds are very important components in the overall beauty and serenity of the garden

 

A traditional wooden walking bridge at Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, leads to Shofuda, a landscaped hill built of many stones piled together

A traditional wooden walking bridge at Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, leads to Shofuda, a landscaped hill built of many stones piled together

 

A small group of ladies out for a boat ride on Nanko pond in the South Garden of Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

A small group of ladies out for a boat ride on Nanko pond in the South Garden of Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan

 

A bride and groom in Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, for their wedding photographs were kind enough to let me also capture their image

A bride and groom in Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, for their wedding photographs were kind enough to let me also capture their image

 

The wedding couple posed upon the most photographed bridge in Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, on Nanko Pond – this bridge is one of the iconic images of Japanese gardens

The wedding couple posed upon the most photographed bridge in Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan, on Nanko Pond – this bridge is one of the iconic images of Japanese gardens

 

Shrines, Temples and Rock Gardens, Kyoto, Japan

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) is a shariden, a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha, Kyoto, Japan

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) is a shariden, a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha, Kyoto, Japan

 

“Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from much of the destruction of World War II.  It was removed from the atomic bomb target list (which it had headed) by the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, as Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later diplomatic visits…  With its 2,000 religious places – 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact – it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan.” — Wikipedia

 

The pavilion is part of a temple that is formally named Rokuon-ji Temple, but commonly called Kinkaku-ji Temple or Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

The pavilion is part of a temple that is formally named Rokuon-ji Temple, but commonly called Kinkaku-ji Temple or Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

 

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) is a shariden, a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha.  The pavilion is part of a temple that is formally named Rokuon-ji Temple, but commonly called Kinkaku-ji Temple or Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Rokuon-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple, in the Shokokuji School of the Rinzai Sect.  The garden and its buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion, were said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world.  The villa also functioned as an official guesthouse, welcoming the Emperor and other members of the nobility.

 

Two ducks enjoying the Sakura shaded pond in front of the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

Two ducks enjoying the Sakura shaded pond in front of the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

 

Pink and white Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the garden of the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

Pink and white Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the garden of the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

 

Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto is famed for its Zen garden of 15 irregularly places rocks on raked white gravel, representing islands in an ocean or some say (after a few too many cups of warm saké), ‘a tiger carrying her cubs across the water’.  It is designed so always at least one of rocks is hidden from the view from any vantage point.  It is a supreme art work and the best Zen temple in Kyoto, if not in Japan.

 

Japan_s most famous zen garden, the Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple, viewed from Hojo (the building that used be the head priest_s residence), Kyoto, Japan; 14 of the 15 rocks in the g

Japan’s most famous zen garden, the Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple, viewed from Hojo (the building that used be the head priest’s residence), Kyoto, Japan; at least one of the 15 rocks in the garden are hidden from view from any vantage point

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is a special time of the year to visit the Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is a special time of the year to visit the Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

 

The garden of Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

The garden of Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

 

We were the only guests at our guide_s “secret garden” in the heart of Kyoto, Japan; similar to the world-famous Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple (which is overflowing with tourists f

We were the only guests at our guide’s “secret garden” in the heart of Kyoto, Japan; similar to the world-famous Rock Garden of Ryoanji Temple (which is overflowing with tourists from around the world), it was set in a Zen Buddhist Temple whose location I must keep secret…

 

Sakura and Ginkakuji Temple (the “Silver Pavilion”) in Kyoto, Japan

Scenic Kyoto, Japan, offers historical and religious traditions and has retained its old-world atmosphere; it is recognized for its uniqueness as a UNESCO World Heritage City

Scenic Kyoto, Japan, offers historical and religious traditions and has retained its old-world atmosphere; it is recognized for its uniqueness as a UNESCO World Heritage City

 

Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage City, on the main island of Honshu was Japan’s capital and center of its civilization for over ten centuries.  Kyoto offers historical and religious traditions and has retained its old-world atmosphere.  “Kyoto (京都) served as Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868.  It is now the country’s seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face.  Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II.  Countless temples, shrines, and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.” – http://www.japan-guide.com

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) were in full bloom when we visited Kyoto, Japan, shown here in the pouring rain at a local shrine

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) were in full bloom when we visited Kyoto, Japan, shown here in the pouring rain at a local shrine

 

The Kamo River runs through the center of Kyoto, Japan, and has Sakura (cherry blossoms) all along the banks – in the springtime they are a riot of color and invite numerous walkers; o

The Kamo River runs through the center of Kyoto, Japan, and has Sakura (cherry blossoms) all along the banks – in the springtime they are a riot of color and invite numerous walkers; our walk (unfortunately) was in the pouring rain

 

The bank of the Kamo River on the north side of the city has trellises to support the cherry trees and their blossoms (Sakura), Kyoto, Japan

The bank of the Kamo River on the north side of the city has trellises to support the cherry trees and their blossoms (Sakura), Kyoto, Japan

 

The view, just after the public entry to the site, from the Kogetsudai Window of Ginsyadan (representing waves and white sand) and the gardens at Ginkakuji Temple (a Zen temple establish

The view, just after the public entry to the site, from the Kogetsudai Window of Ginsyadan (representing waves and white sand) and the gardens at Ginkakuji Temple (a Zen temple established in 1482) – also known as the “Silver Pavilion”, Kyoto, Japan – a World Cultural Heritage Site

 

Ginkakuji Temple – also known as the “Silver Pavilion” – is a Zen temple that was established in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Muromachi Shogunate.  Yoshimasa, following Kinkakuji Temple Kitayama den built by his grandfather, built villa Kigashiyama den to spend his retired life.  Ginkakuji is the common name, and formally it was called Higashiyama Jishõji, taking the name after Yoshimasa’s posthumous title after his death.  Higashiyama den is the place where Higashiyama culture, formed mainly by Yoshimasa, started and is the start of the modern life style of the Japanese.

 

We had a leisurely walk (in the rain) through the beautiful Japanese-style gardens where the beauty of nature in each different season is adapted skillfully, giving the atmosphere of a p

We had a leisurely walk (in the rain) through the beautiful Japanese-style gardens where the beauty of nature in each different season is adapted skillfully, giving the atmosphere of a profound spiritual world, at the Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), Kyoto, Japan

 

A view of Ginsyadan (representing waves and white sand) and the gardens and buildings at the Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), Kyoto, Japan

A view of Ginsyadan (representing waves and white sand) and the gardens and buildings at the Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), Kyoto, Japan

 

Wonderful serenity contemplating new growth on a Japanese maple tree and the bamboo fence in the garden of the Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), Kyoto, Japan

Wonderful serenity contemplating new growth on a Japanese maple tree and the bamboo fence in the garden of the Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), Kyoto, Japan

 

A national treasure, Kannon-den or Ginkaku (the “silver pavilion”) is unusual in that the first floor is built in the Shoin style (a traditional Japanese residential architectural st

A national treasure, Kannon-den or Ginkaku (the “silver pavilion”) is unusual in that the first floor is built in the Shoin style (a traditional Japanese residential architectural style) and the second floor is built in a Chinese temple style, Kyoto, Japan

 

As we left Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), we were again surrounded by Sakura (cherry blossoms), Kyoto, Japan

As we left Ginkakuji Temple (“Silver Pavilion”), we were again surrounded by Sakura (cherry blossoms), Kyoto, Japan

 

Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

The main entrance to the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan, located in Ueno Park which was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Bloss

The main entrance to the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan, located in Ueno Park which was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan”]

Japan’s oldest and largest museum, the acclaimed Tokyo National Museum houses an impressive assemblage of art and artifacts.  The unrivaled collection encompasses Asian paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, arms and armor, textiles, and historical documents.  Each season the museum rotates its collection to feature art that pertains to the season.  Thus, during the Sakura (cherry blossom) season in March and April, the permanent collection of Japanese art and artifacts had many pieces focusing on the celebration of Sakura.

 

Designated as a National Treasure in 1953- “Merrymaking under Blossom Trees” by Kano Naganobu (1577-1654), color on paper (screen), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, T

Designated as a National Treasure in 1953: “Merrymaking under Blossom Trees” by Kano Naganobu (1577-1654), color on paper (screen), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

“Depicted on this… screen is a scene of [Sakura] cherry blossom viewing by people dressed in garments with the latest designs.  Whether it was intended to portray a particular event or setting is unclear.  The surrounding trees and curtains, however, create a dramatic effect in which the people performing a folk dance and the ladies watching them appear as though they were on a stage.” – Tokyo National Museum.  Note that the tradition of celebrating the arrival of spring Sakura (cherry blossoms) goes back a long time in Japanese history – we were fortunate to be in Tokyo for the height of this year’s cherry blossoms and to mingle with locals in appreciating the delicate blossoms signaling the end of winter and the new annual cycle.

“The Museum Garden behind the Honkan main building is open during the spring.  We invite you to enjoy strolling among the five teahouses, each with their own history, as well as the cherry blossoms, which about 10 varieties bloom from one to another.  The flourishing garden is most beautiful at this time of the year.” – www.tnm.jp    The Garden was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan”, for several photographs of the Sakura in the Tokyo National Museum Garden].

 

Ichinotani Style Helmet, Iris leaf design, Azuchi-Momoyama-Edo period, 16th-17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Ichinotani Style Helmet, Iris leaf design, Azuchi-Momoyama-Edo period, 16th-17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

Gusoku Type Armor with two-piece cuirass with dark blue lacing, Edo period, 17th-18th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Gusoku Type Armor with two-piece cuirass with dark blue lacing, Edo period, 17th-18th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

“The Tokyo National Museum features one of the largest and best collections of art and archeological artifacts in Japan, made up of over 110,000 individual items including nearly a hundred national treasures.  At any one time, about 4,000 different items from the permanent museum collection are on display.  In addition, visiting temporary exhibitions are also held regularly.  The large museum complex is home to six separate buildings, each large enough to be considered a museum on its own, which specialize in different types of art and exhibitions.  The main Honkan building [which we focused on] was opened in 1938 and exhibits a variety of Japanese artwork from ancient times to the 19th century including antique Buddhist statues, painted sliding doors, scrolls, ceramics and maps in addition to cultural items such as masks, costume, armor and weapons among other historical artifacts.” – www.japan-guide.com

 

“Kanazawa, Musashi Province” by Kano Osanobu {Seisen_in} (1796-1846), color on silk, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

“Kanazawa, Musashi Province” by Kano Osanobu {Seisen’in} (1796-1846), color on silk, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

Primary Textbook for the Noble_s Children by Prince Hachijo-no-miya Toshihito (1579-1629), ink on decorated paper (SCROLL), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japa

Primary Textbook for the Noble’s Children by Prince Hachijo-no-miya Toshihito (1579-1629), ink on decorated paper (SCROLL), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan; this spectacular section of the “textbook” features Mt. Fuji in the colored background, painted by the Prince before adding the text

 

Uchikake (Outer Garment, [like a kimono]), Tachibana and screen design on figured satin ground, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Uchikake (Outer Garment, [like a kimono]), Tachibana and screen design on figured satin ground, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan

Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops -- full of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) -- leads to the second gate and the temple grounds at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Ja

Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops — full of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) — leads to the second gate and the temple grounds at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

 

We were extremely fortunate with the timing of our arrival in Tokyo – at the height of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, which is a really major time of celebration across Japan.  Springtime weather in Japan was very cool this year, delaying the arrival of the first cherry blossoms in Tokyo by several weeks from their typical mid-March appearance.  In the Japanese culture, the arrival of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring (a re-birth of the spirit as well as agricultural cycles).  The one- to two-week short life span of the delicate blossoms also reminds everyone of how fleeting life is and to maximize time with family and friends and the enjoyment of life.

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

 

Word has gotten out to the rest of the world about the ephemeral beauty of the short Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, so Japan (especially Tokyo and Kyoto, our next destination) get really crowded with foreigners and traveling Japanese in the spring.  The major parks and shrines and temples and streets with “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) “spots” are jam packed (see out photographs, below).  This is such a big deal that Google maps highlights “Cherry Blossom Spots” on its detailed maps of Japan (this was very helpful to us!). It is a traditional custom to bring a picnic lunch or dinner and to gather with family and/or friends under the trees and to relax with some sake or beer and enjoy an al fresco meal under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms).  The beauty of the season has been captured by Japanese painters for centuries and the major museums rotate their permanent exhibitions to feature paintings of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) during this season.  Food and drink vendors annually come up with a new Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)-based version of an ice cream, confection, drink, etc. with big signage in the restaurants and stores featuring this year’s specialty.  After a few days we, too, came to both appreciate the short-lived beauty of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) and to understand the near-mania of the collective celebrations of this wonderful herald of spring.

Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, was completed in 645 and later reconstructed after being destroyed by air raids in 1945. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, the temple is usually entered via the iconic Kaminarimon (thunder) Gate.  Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops, leads to the second gate and the temple grounds.  The temple’s pagoda is currently being renovated and covered by scaffolding, but it had only have a minor impact on visiting the site.

 

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

 

The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at the Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen district were a bonus to the traditional five elements in a Japanese garden – a pine tree, wa

The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at the Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen district were a bonus to the traditional five elements in a Japanese garden – a pine tree, water, rocks, moss, and a lantern; Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #1 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #1 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #2 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #2 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #3 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #3 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Late afternoon mobs of strollers enjoying the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Late afternoon mobs of strollers enjoying the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Clusters of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) on a cherry tree at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Clusters of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) on a cherry tree at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the gardens of Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district in central Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the gardens of Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district in central Tokyo, Japan