Ginkakuji, The Silver Pavilion, Kyoto

I arrive at Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion) late in the day, the same time as numerous other groups. I’m running out of oomph and my enthusiasm for wandering through one more heritage site is flagging. I’m feeling almost defeated in my purpose to relax in Kyoto.

Restless people circumscribe the groomed bed of sand in front of the hojo (main hall) that might otherwise restore the serenity I crave. However, to my left a sign states that paintings of Yosa Buson, a poet whose haiku I first read in childhood are on display. The place is welcomingly empty.

I’m quite content to see nothing else of the temple or garden. The images are enough: the spirit of the artist speaks from antiquity in the beauty of the brush strokes.

After many minutes sitting with the paintings I rise and prepare to move along. Unexpectedly, a woman who has been sitting at the entrance approaches me, bows and invites me to follow her by way of the engawa (wooden veranda) to another small room—the personal library of the eighth Shogun, Yoshimasa of Muromachi.

She kneels in seiza position in front of a window covered by shoji screens, and I mirror her. This room has no scroll in the tokonoma, she explains as she reaches to her right to pull back the shoji in one graceful motion. Tumbling from the treetops to the moss, filling the slender window, a scroll of autumnal garden hangs before me.

In such serendipitous moments, charged with the same tacit eloquence as a pair of slippers waiting on the top step at the end of the day, Japan says: Welcome. I was expecting you. In such moments my equilibrium and vitality return. I leave serene and relaxed and restored.


Excerpted and revised from “Wine Through Water” which first appeared in Kyoto Journal: Perspectives on Asia Volume 52, 2002.

For fellow blogger Dallen Nakamura’s post on Ginkakuji, click here.

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