ot to suggest that I don’t like the modern conveniences of living in a city, but I really do like being surrounded by nature. Living in Kyoto affords me the opportunity to not only have everything my city dwelling heart desires, but the lush, changing colors of the trees, the chirping of the birds and the occasional home invasion via weasel that my soul craves.
Japanese aesthetics are especially tied to nature and the changing of the seasons. It is a particular item of pride among Japanese people to say that they have four separate seasons. I’m not sure how exactly this came to be such a bragging point. Every place I’ve lived has had four separate seasons. I think it’s because in Japan the seasons are very vividly marked in color: in spring it is cherry blossom pink, in the summer, vibrant, lush green, in the autumn, the flaming red of momiji and in the winter, the calm ice blue of snow.
Of course, actually getting all of these colors year round depends on where in the country you live. In Kyoto where the year is dominated most by the bitter cold of winter and the impossibly hot and humid days of summer, some of the colors last for a preciously short time.
Ecclesiastically speaking, all of Kyoto’s temples and shrines incorporate nature in some form or another. Many have carefully tended gardens to instill a sense of calm in visitors. The larger temples and shrines have large, walk around gardens that guests can enter for a small fee. Places like Heian Jingu Shrine have gardens that one can get lost in for hours they are so large. Other places like Kyoto Iwakura Jissoin take such pride in the colors of the seasons that their interior decor literally reflects the changing colors. Guests aren’t permitted to walk on the black lacquer boards, but the sight from just behind them is beautiful nonetheless. Some places, such as the Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine specialize in one sort of plant or flower. Kitano specializes in plum blossoms, which can be viewed between February and March, depending on the weather. This is such a specialty of theirs that later in the year they also sell umeboshi, pickled plums, that are harvested from their garden. Mt. Hiei Enryaku-ji Temple, an important historical seat of Tendai Buddhism in Japan sits at the highest point in all of Kyoto: Mt. Hiei. It isn’t possible to see all the temple complexes sprawled across the top of the mountain, interspersed between towering cedars and beautiful cherry and maple trees. Fortunately there’s a hotel up there too, if you want to spend a couple nights to take in the whole thing. Walking Shisendo Temple Through the Four Seasons is especially delightful for me, not only because the temple is so close to my house that I hardly have to plan the trip at all, but because the open temple terraces provide a lovely place to sit and reflect on the beauty of nature.
In essence, I Love Kyoto for all that it has given me, and all that I will take away from it. It is a city in its conveniences, but at its heart, it is still very much married to nature.