Monday, July 22, 2013

We Want a Japanese Maple!

Leaves at Daikaku-ji, Kyoto (Jun 3, 2012)

Mayli and I have a big fascination with japanese maples. These are trees with personality. They tell you some secret story in the way their leaves change colors with their seasons, and they get shaped by the intricate doings of weather and time. Since we came back from our Japan trip we have been looking for a good tree that would survive the iowan glacial winters and grow the right shape and height for the perfect spot in front of our house. But there are almost infinite varieties, each of them with individual properties, qualities and preference, and just choosing seems an impossible task. Plus, we realized quite soon that it is not just a matter of finding the right variety, each tree has its own individuality. And behind each great tree there is an even greater gardener that pull out the greatness from that tree (we have read that young gardeners are not authorized to prune the trees until after many years of training; for the first 10 years they only pick up twigs from the ground). But we are not despairing, and we are still looking: our tree (or at least our gardener) must be out there waiting for us.

Daikaku-ji
Anyway, Daikaku-ji, when we finally found it, was full of excellent maples trees. The temple itself was interesting and somewhat different than the other we saw in Kyoto. The first peculiar thing was a beautiful floral arrangement place at the entrance: apparently the temple hosts the headquarters of a famous school of ikebana. Other interesting notion is that the temple was founded by a woman in the Heian period, the empress Masako, to honor her father the emperor Saga (saga grandson is thought to be the inspiration of the main character in The Tale of Genji). Tradition holds that the emperor, a 30 years before, personally copied an important religious document to propitiate the end of a pestilence. The Gods obliged, and the manuscript is still kept at the temple and shown to the public every 60 years (mark your calendar, next exposition will be soon, in 2018). The temple seemed to be more "lived in" than many others we saw, and in fact it was the only one where we saw monks doing their things. Finally, just outside the temple there is a very large pond, said to be older than the temple itself. It is designed to be seen from a boat, rather than from the shores. I wish we had a boat to experience that, but at this stage we have all to trust Wikipedia on this.

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