Posts Tagged ‘yashima’

An Unnatural Garden

From Tokushima I took the train on to Takamatsu – a limited express, not a shinkansen, but it still seemed pretty fast, and it leaned into the curves like the French ICE trains. With my ankle still in poor shape I took another taxi to my hotel instead of figuring out the buses. I had booked the Dormy Inn through agoda.com, as the web site was all in Japanese, and when I checked in I was pleased to be upgraded to a double.

Pathway at Ritsurin

The next morning was reserved for the Ritsurin Garden, one of the most famous gardens in Japan. Still limping, I followed the route recommended for wheel chairs, and skipped much of the northern section, and anywhere with steps, but I still had a lovely time. Checking the back of the map for the garden, I see that development occurred in stages from the 1570s to the 1740s, and that the landscaping is considered “typical of the elaborate daimyo style gardens of the early Edo era”.

Bridge, fish and well-trained tree

Elaborate, yes. Beautiful, yes. But completely unnatural. Not in the sense that a French garden can be unnatural, with everything laid out in geometric forms, or that an English park is supposed to look like wilderness, but isn’t, but that the existence and shape of almost every twig was the result of conscious decision on the part of the gardeners. Indeed, I spotted a couple up a tree busy pruning, and fine wires forcing branches to grow in the preferred directions.

Even while I admired the results, the carefully contrived vistas and the twisted trunks, I was conscious of what had produced them. I love the Japanese pine trees, with their contorted branches and fine needles: they remind me of the junipers in the south-western US, surviving despite adversity. But in this case, as so often, the adversity is man-made. So surprising, that something intended to look random, instead feels so formal.

Another Ritsurin pathway

Back at the train station I lunched on excellent fried chicken and cabbage salad, before catching a little local train to visit Yashima-ji. Yashima-ji is temple no. 84 of the 88 temples that form the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit of Shikoku island. Several small groups of pilgrims made brief visits while I was there – I rather suspect they arrived by four-wheeled transport rather than on their own feet. Some wore all white clothes, with an elaborate sash round their necks, and carried staffs and bells, but others just wore white jackets or vests.


The main temple sights are a very old wooden building, and a thousand-handed Kannon statue, which reminded me of the Hindu goddess Durga (NOT a friendly deity) rather than the Buddha. Maybe it was because she held what looked like a skull in one of her hands. I did enjoy the views of the coast from the shuttle bus on the way up, and the story of the Yashima Tasaburo badger, Kannon’s messenger.

I thought I had been careful in the garden, but clearly the day had been too energetic, as my ankle swelled up alarmingly. I soaked it in the Japanese bath on the top floor of the hotel, and ate dinner at a little izakawa just round the corner.Tthe waitress was very upset when I ordered chicken liver skewers (by the Japanese name) and tried to get someone to translate to make sure I knew what I was doing. I did, and they were delicious!

Detail of Yashima-ji

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