Grumpy Dumpty – Daruma paintings at Toji-in (等持院) in Kyoto

The first thing you see when after you take off your shoes at Toji-in temple is a huge daruma painting at the end of a long wooden corridor. The comical rendition of a seemingly grumpy Bhodidharma, with eyes wide open, surprises and and reliefs some of the heavy, solemn atmosphere one expects when entering a temple. The high contrast of white, red and black certainly made an impression on my the first time I visited the temple in 2012. This time, I was looking forward to see the Daruma again.

The Japanese call the legendary Buddhist monk Daruma (達磨 or だるま) after the Indian short form Dharma for Bodhidharma. He is attributed to have brought Ch’an Buddhism from India to China in the 5th or 6th century BC. Ch’an will later make its way to Japan and be known as Zen.

The most famous Daruma painting in the main hall way of Toji-in.

The most famous Daruma painting in the main hall way of Toji-in.

Why the round eyes?

There are many legends around this religious figure. He is especially famous for sitting 9 years in meditation, facing a wall. Daruma was well into his 7th year of sitting, when he got tired and fell asleep. When he awoke, he was mad and dissappointed that he fell asleep – so he cut of his eyelids, so this could never happen again.

Legend goes that shoots of a tea plant grew where his eyelids touched the ground – since that time monks drink green tea to stay energized and awake during meditation. Read more about the life of the first Zen monk on wikipedia.

 
Day 1 Daruma 3

 
I found more daruma paintings in the different rooms of the temple – it was like searching for easter eggs.
Apropos egg: Daruma dolls are very popular in Japan. They are little egg-shaped tumbler toys, mostly depicting him without his legs. Another side-effect of sitting through a 9-year-long meditation, is that your legs fall off due to atrophy. I think everyone who sat in Seiza (正座), the typical Japanese meditation pose, for only 20 minutes can feel his pain…

Day 1 Daruma 2

Day 1 Daruma 4

Daruma inception:
Day 1 Daruma 5

 
The last Daruma in the temple is also the first one – a small photograph of the big Daruma in a reception room near the entrance/exit. I wasn’t aware of the picture when I entered the temple, but the easter egg hunt was… dare I say… a real eyeopener.

Day 90 – A very long day of gratitude – 感謝

Travelling from one end of the time zone (Japan, GMT +9 hours) via the other end (Hawaii, GMT -10 hours) to arrive in San Francisco (GMT -7 hours) has given me with the longest 1st of July ever: 42 hours! A lot of time to think about the last 89 days.

After spending the morning at the Kamogawa River sleeping and reading with my feet in the cool mountain water, I had the summer special (Tsukemen with Soy Milk Dashi) at Mamezen. Later, the chef Minoru Yonekawa and his wife Mitsue removed the two floor-to-ceiling windows and we enjoyed the garden from inside the tatami room. One of the moments I hope I will never forget.

Mamezen Summer Sukemen Set and Tsuboniwa Garden

 

ガマズミ - Viburnum dilatatum

ガマズミ – Viburnum dilatatum

How blessed I am to be able to have this experience, to be able to live this life, to have the support of family, friends and, most importantly, my husband Steffen who always supports me, pushes me further and challenges me in my adventures. 感謝です。

When the cab picked me up, I couldn’t believe I actually was leaving and that my 90 days in Kyoto were over. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t happy – that was just the way it was. I had been here, given my everything and taken in as much as I could. There was nothing left to do – for the moment.

Day 63 – Japanese tools: Jigote (地鏝 じごて)

買っちゃった。。。庭師にとって欠かすことのできない道具:地鏝。

One of the tools a japanese niwashi (gardener) cannot do without: A jigote (pronounce gee-go-te).

It is a tool used for digging in small spaces, forming landscapes, moving soil, scraping, cutting etc. Until now I have been borrowing one from a senpai who is abroad for the moment, and I found it extremely useful.

I bought my own and I am as proud as can be – handmade and not cheap (5500 yen, about 55 USD). It is also a commitment for my future as a gardener – designing gardens is not enough for me, I want to build them with my own hands.

A jigote, an indispensable japanese gardening tool (地鏝) used for planting moss, uprooting moss, leveling the ground, forming a landscape, digging holes, scraping...

A jigote, an indispensable japanese gardening tool (地鏝) used for planting moss, uprooting moss, leveling the ground, forming a landscape, digging holes, scraping…

 

Day 73 – Making decisions and building gardens

On the way back after a long afternoon and evening of setting stones Senpai K-San shared one of Oyakata’s wise words with me:

庭造りは決断の連続だ。 – Creating gardens is continuous decision making.

勇気が必要だと思いますね。枝を切る勇気。枝を残す勇気。石の設置を決める勇気。I think one needs courage to build gardens – to prune a tree, to set a stone, to skip cleaning a place in favor of another place.

Checking the stone setting from the guest's viewpoint at the low table inside the ramen shop.

Checking the stone setting from the guest’s viewpoint at the low table inside the ramen shop.

 

We are three young gardeners and we realized today how much time and boldness it takes to build a good garden in a reasonable amount of time. But what is most important is that is is a good garden. Speed comes with experience.

Day 73 – Off to the gardens

After 4 free days, its off to the gardens again! Senpai K-san and I are building a tsuboniwa garden the Mamezen Ramen Shop in Kyoto. The picture was taken behind my apartment, it is not the garden…  Although I see room for improvement.

Relaxed and ready to work again!

Relaxed and ready to go!

Day 56 – Like a Lotus flower – Creating beauty from dirt

Summer has arrived in Kyoto, it is around 30 degree Celsius. I work outside and although it is demanding and I am very tired sometimes, I feet light and happy to be here. There are ups and downs, but by now I feel part of the team:

Our faces, hands and shirts are dirty, but only because we give our everything to create beauty.

Another exclusive 'after hours' photo of the Hondo in  Kodai-ji.

Another exclusive ‘after hours’ photo of the Hondo in Kodai-ji.

My favorite work in the garden – climbing & pruning trees. One needs muscles, brain, balance and courage. A work that is thrilling and relaxing at the same time. Yesterday was the first time I was allowed to climb a tree in Kodai-ji. Some of the branches we took of were the size of a young tree themselves. I wass glas I wore my new Jika-Tabi with more grip and a snug fit, these shoes are really perfect for climbing around in trees.

Never look down

Never look down

Cutting back these nasty upright branches

Cutting back these nasty upright branches

Once we took off some branches, we could see Kyoto and a fresh breeze of air now and then made the  work less tiring

Once we took off some branches, we could see Kyoto and a fresh breeze of air now and then made the work less tiring