Day 37 – A dream comes true –



Putting in extra hours after work to make a dream come true: Will probably build a small tsuboniwa garden (190x220cm) for my favorite Kyoto restaurant Mamezen with a colleague and a friend of his. Here are some ideas from the on-site visit yesterday:


Day 30 – When the crowds are gone – After hours in Kodai-ji

The spring season special opening (春特別拝観) with extended hours and a beautiful light-up of the garden is ended yesterday at the last day of the official Golden Week. I experienced the garden today for the first time without visitors and was amazed by the atmosphere. Even the staff was gone while I did my last round of the day. I was tired after some days of long long working hours and all I wanted to do is sit on the wooden veranda (engawa – 縁側) of the temple, enjoy the garden and fall asleep.

I didn’t, but I took this picture:

Kaisan-do, the Hall of the Fouding Priest of the temple after hours


Kaisan-do, the Hall of the Fouding Priest of the temple after hours


Day 26 – Building a itabei

The head gardener and I built the frame for a wooden fence (itabei – 板塀) in a restaurant.

The existing dobei (土塀), the traditional earthen wall has gotten weak and is crumbling, which gives us a great view into the construction of it. A frame is built with wooden posts and a grid of slices of bamboo. Strings made of rice straw (kainawa – 櫂縄) fix the frames to each other. The mud is then thrown into the mesh.

A dobei (土塀), a traditional mud wall in Japan

A dobei (土塀), a traditional mud wall in Japan

Kaki-Shibu – 柿渋

I love Kyoto because it is the center for traditional craftsmanship in Japan. Over centuries, emperors, shoguns, religious and political leaders and tradesmen have lived here in beautiful houses and gardens, have held sophisticated parties and indulged in lavish banquets. They have invested in the beauty of Japan – sophisticated craftsmanship, a sense for balance and details, refined cuisine. And this tradition continues until today.

We stopped on our way to the temple at Kakishibu, a shop in Kyoto which sells mainly one thing: The liquid essence of dried and fermented unripe kaki fruits. It is used to dye clothes, wood and protect them against insects and water damage (to some degree). This essence is sold throughout the country, specialist garden shops as well as DIY and hardware stores. It is quite pricey. This small and unsuspicious shop is where they make the essence and run their business:

We bought about 1.5 liters which we filled in a used pet bottle. As soon as the pet bottle was in the car, it started smelling really foul – like rancid butter. You can find more information about Kakishibu in English from this seller’s site in the US.

Kaki (柿) means persimmon, an orange fruit that is harvested from autumn to early winter. The kaki used for kakishibu is Shibu-Kaki. Shibu (渋) refers to the astringent and bitter taste of the fruit. It is furthermore used to describe a visually austere, somber, subdued, subtle, quiet or unobstrusive elegance, an understated beauty.

When oyakata asked me what gardens I like I replied with Obai-in (Daitoku-ji) and Funda-in (Tofuku-ji). To both he replied: Shibui! I have never really thought about it, but in the following days out in Kyoto I realized that I do like shibui things way more than hanayaka (華やか – showy, flowery, bright) things. For example, this small hut in Kozan-ji near Kyoto:


Jizo-in in the Arashiyama mountains in Kyoto:

Jizou-in - Sub3 - Logo


And this wooden cedar veneer in Shake-machi near the Kamigamo shrine:

Kyoto Tag 1 - 1 Shake-machi Streets 3 (1)

Day 15 – my favorite temple Obai-in (黄梅院)

Update: I wanted to say hi to my favorite temple in Kyoto. Since taking pictures is not allowed, I sat down and sketched the sanzon-seki stone arrangement.

Sanzon-seki stone arrangement in Obai-in (Daitoku-ji, 大徳寺黄梅院)

Sanzon-seki stone arrangement in Obai-in (Daitoku-ji, 大徳寺黄梅院)

It is pretty cold today and I am warming up with a coffee and canele at Cafe du Mon next to the temple.

Chocolate canele at Cafe du Mon in Kyoto

Chocolate canele at Cafe du Mon in Kyoto

Day 1- 3 – Sakura paradise in Kyoto

I arrived in Kyoto – finally and just in time for the sakura, the Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. They are everywhere; in temples and shrines, lining busy main streets, next to rivers and especially near schools. Everything in Japan starts in April – the new fiscal year, school, university, and jobs for university graduates. So Sakura is the beginning of a new life for many people – and for me.

I had my first workday on Saturday, I used Sunday to see more of the Kyoto’s beautiful gardens. I received the recommendation from Oyakata, the master gardener, to visit the Ninomaru gardens of Nijo-jo, the Palace of the Shogun which was built in the 17th century. That garden is “easy to understand”, I was told. I can see why; it definitely impressed me. More on that later.

Here are my first impressions:

Day 1 – A single cherry blossom on a moss-covered roof in Entoku-in (圓徳院 )

Day 1 Cherry Blossom on a moss roof tea house - 90 days in kyoto


Day 2 – My colleague cleaning the moss in the northern garden of Entoku-in, which is a sub-temple of Kodai-ji (高台寺).

Day 2 Entoku-in

Day 3 – I used my first free day to visit the Ninomaru gardens of the Nijo-jo, the castle of the shoguns in the 17th century. I went on to the shrines Kitano Tenmangu (北野天満宮) and Hirano Jinja (平野神社), which are full with cherry blossoms (and crowded with visitors). After lunch, I visited Hokongo-in (法金剛院), one of the few temple of the Ritsu school of Buddhism (律宗). To finish my day of Niwa-meguri (Visiting gardens), I decided to pay another visit to Myoshin-ji, which is close by. Its sub-temple Daiho-in (大法院) is only open in autumn and spring. I had seen it in autumn before, and loved it. It is one of those gardens that truly calms my mind. After a short but intense hail shower, the tea garden glistened in the sun more beautiful than before.

Ninomaru garden of the Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto

Ninomaru garden of the Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto

Sakura and kneeling cow in the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto

Sakura and kneeling cow in the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto

Cherry blossom paradise in the Hirano Jinja shrine

Cherry blossom paradise in the Hirano Jinja shrine

Daiho-in, sub-temple of Myoshin-ji in Kyoto

Daiho-in, sub-temple of Myoshin-ji in Kyoto



No expectations

Great Mormon butterfly (Papilio memnon – Nagazaki Ageha, ナガザキアゲハ) in Chion-in temple

I bought my flight ticket and am leaving in two weeks. Now it has become a real thing. I have been dreaming and thinking about this endeavor for about a year now and the time has finally come. Of course, my mind is full of expectations, I ask myself how things will be like, where I will live, whom I will meet, what work will be like. BUT, I also try not to let them go to my head. Too high of expectations of how things will be had left me disappointed when I arrived at my first apprenticeship, although it turned out to be the best place to work and live. So I try to avoid that trap this time.

Although it is hard to do so – after all I have been dreaming of living in Kyoto and writing a book for a long time. It is really a dream come true. I already dream about coming back to Kyoto every few years to write my second and third book. I have a very romantic idea of my life there. It really is hard not to have expectations too high. But I know that I will probably life in a very small, maybe old apartment, I will not have super-much money to indulge in all of Kyoto’s refined kaiseki cuisine. The up side is that the times I will enjoy such a multi-course meal, I will truly value it, especially if I eat Miso soup the rest of the time.

Working on Saturdays is not uncommon in Japan, so I might not even have enough time to visit temples and other gardens, let alone places outside of Kyoto on the weekends. But that will be OK, since I work in the gardens, I will spent the most of my waking time in them.

I will treat these three months as a retreat – exchanging my SF life for a different one. Working, cooking, writing. Sleeping. Meeting friends once in a while. And going to the Sento (銭湯), the public bath house.

It will be another lesson of letting go. Letting go of possession. Letting go of expectations, letting go of worries, letting go of planning ahead. The Japanese system, in which you trust your superiors and in exchange be loyal to them, should help me with that. Letting go of control. Whatever control we image we have. Control is just an illusion anyway.