THE GIST OF THIS ARTICLE
- This page:Short history of Saihoji and its gardens
- Page 2: Othre must-sees, Kannon kyo sutra, and reservation to visit
The following is the contents of this article.
A short history of Saihoji: Why did Kokedera gained its mosses?
Saihoji enjoyed its fame as a “Kokedera (Moss temple) all over the world thanks to the mosses it has. Actually, the garden is covered with over 120 kinds of mosses.
Saihoji was originally founded as a villa of Shotoku Taishi. He is a son of Emperor Yomei and known for the great advocator of Buddhism which was introduced to Japan in the 6th century.
About 100 years later, Emperor Shomu asked Gyoki, who made an extraordinary contribution to build the Great Buddha in Nara, to found the villa as a Buddhist temple called “西方寺.”
西芳寺 (the temple we call Kokedera) and 西方寺, both of them are pronounced “Saihoji.”
After the foundation, 西方寺 went into decline and disappeared. Any archives cannot tell exactly what happened to it.
In the 12th century, Nakahara Morokazu, a high-ranking Samurai in the Kamakura Shogunate, renovated former Saihoji into Saihoji temple and Etodera temple but both of them collapsed as former Saihoji did.
Finally, in the 14th century, Chikahide Nakahara, asked Muso Soseki, one of the most talented garden designers in Japanese history, to make these temples alive anew. This is the de facto origin of Saihoji we know today. It was a superb Zen temple and was famous among monks even in the Ming Dynasty.
In 1469, due to Ohnin no Ran, the largest civil war in Japan, Saihoji went into debris. Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the founder of Ginkakuji temple, tried to reconstruct Shitoan (指東庵, a small temple located in the upper garden) in vain.
In addition to the war, Saohoji was caught by fire and burned out completely in the 16th century.
Garan (伽藍 Building comples consists of a Buddhist temple) of Saihoji we know today was established in the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Saihoji is located in a valley and suffered from floods many times. And as described, it experienced destructions. After these floods and destructions, it was deserted many times. During the deserted times, it gained lots of mosses gradually.
These mossed were not planted deliberately.
The garden of Saihoji has islands. In traditional Japanese gardens, Edges of islands are to be graveled for the purpose of implying shores. It is a strict rule cannot be violated.
This is the garden of Byodoin temple. The edge of the island is graveled.
On the other hand, at the shore of the Saihoji’s, there are gravels covered with mosses. The fact reveals that the mossed were not planted on purpose.
The gardens in Saihoji
Saihoji has 2 gardens. The upper garden and the lower garden. The upper garden is not open to us. The temple give us no particular reason but I suppose it is a place for contemplation. Under the influence of Zen, these gardens were renovated in 1339 by Muso Soseki, well-known monk and garden designer. He renovated the upper garden as a place to practice Zen.
The upper garden 上段庭園
As I said before, we cannot enter the upper garden. It is constructed as an ideal place for Sugyo by Muso Soseki.
The most important thing in the upper garden is Koinzan Ishigumi (洪隠山石組). It is a group of rocks and the oldest one in Zen gardens.
And it has the first Ryumon Baku in Japan. (The photo is that of Kinkakuji’s)
In Ryumon Baku, there are rocks stand for a carp and a waterfall. An old Chinese anecdote put it: A carp tries to crawl up a water fall against the current. When it succeeds to crawl up the fall, it becomes a dragon. In Zen, the story shows the way apprentice monks to take: Through tough Sugyo, obtain the knowledge of Kannon.
Koiyama of Gion Matsuri tells us the story.
The lower garden
Saihoji temple opens only the lower garden to us. I’m not sure the reason but I suppose it consider the upper garden is a place for Shugyo, the practice of Buddhism.
The lower garden has a “Ogonchi (黄金池) pond. The small spring called Yuhi no Shimizu is a source of it.
Ogonchi has three islands: Asahigashima(朝日ヶ島), Yuhigashima(朝日ヶ島), and Kasumigashima(霞ヶ島). We are not allowed to get them though they are connected with bridges each other. The pond also has three teahouses: Shoando (少庵堂), Shonantei (湘南亭), and Tanhokutei (潭北亭).
The name of the pond was derived from Hekigenroku,the compilation of Zen Stories in Southern Song dynasty of China.
In the story, a monk asked the emperor to build Muhoto after his decease. The emperor was at a loss for what Muhoto means and asked a disciple of the monk.
He replied, ”湘之南、潭之北～（中略）～中有黄金充一国～（中略）～無影樹下合同船～（中略）～瑠璃殿上無知識～（中略）～”
It’s an allegory and hard to describe what the sentences mean. Actually, they have many interpretations. The following is a translation:
Muhoto literary means Seamless tower. but the word implies the Buddhist pure land.
湘之南、潭之北 describes how vast the pure land is. (The sentence implies the southern and northern part of an ancient dynasty of China.)
中有黄金充一国 literary means it is filled with gold. This sentence implies the people there are precious like gold and they can be Buddhas.
無影樹下合同船 means that the pure land is as if we are in ship under the sun.
瑠璃殿上無知識 means we cannot recognize and understand it and the way to be a Buddha with any knowledge.
Muhoto is a Gokuraku Jodo and the monk wanted the emperor make the country a kind of Gokuraku Jodo.
- Shonantei (湘南亭), and Tanhokutei (潭北亭) teahouse: 湘之南、潭之北.
- Ogonchi (黄金池): 黄金.
- 船 in 無影樹下合同船is a ship or boat. A small boat is on Ogonchi (Take a look at the photo above.)
- The garden used to have a building called Ruriden (瑠璃殿).
In a nutshell, the lower garden is based on the story and stands for Gokuraku Jodo.
Syonantei teahouse 湘南亭（重要文化財）
A teahouse named Shonantei was build when Muso Soseki renovated Saihoji in the 14th century. The teahouse bears the same name we can see today was constructed by Shoan, a son of Sen no Rikyu, in the 19th century.
Tanhoku tei teahouse 潭北亭
It is believed it was constructed in the in the 14th century.
Shoan do teahouse 少庵堂
Shoan do is named after Shoan who renovated Shonantei teahouse.