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Tag: Okochi Sanso

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa

The former villa of the silent actor Denjirō Ōkōchi (大河内 傳次郎 — 1896-1962)–most famous for starring in Akira Kurosawa`s Sanshiro Sugata, among many others and at his peak, was one of the top jidaigeki stars–lies lost in the back of Arashiyama’s bamboo groves. Called Ōkōchi Sansō (meaning Ōkōchi mountain villa) Ōkōchi’s estate consists of several ornate gardens, living quarters and tea houses, all lost along a narrow path that winds circuitously through natural settings that appear wild, yet are meticulously kept by a regular team of professional landscapers. This is near the apex of the Japanese gardener trope–the private sector of gardening versus the Emperor’s gardeners… If you`re looking for an escape from the masses of tourists wandering around the backstreets of Tenryuji Zen Buddhist Shrine, the villa`s immaculately manicured gardens could be the middle way for you.

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa Observation Platform Overlooking Kyoto

On humid summer days when the crowds are at a maximum and every corner of the shaded bamboo path are fraught with screams, follow the call of the cicada up the wide path into the deeper shade. It looks private on purpose, to drive away the tourist hordes. There always seems to be a work truck parked out front and the confusing entrance (located around a bend) is not altogether inviting. The 1000 cost of admission is high enough to keep the kids out and allows for the expanse of Mt. Ogura to open up and swallow you whole. Just behind Tenryūji Temple and Sagano Chikurin Komichi bamboo groves in Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, wandering through the ornate gardens will provide snatches of Mt. Hiei and the Hozu River gorge. Taking a moment out at the Okochi Sanso Villa Observation Platform overlooking the hustle of downtown Kyoto gives one perspective on the tranquility of the scene. Taking your time and strolling without desire increases the profound sense of benevolence that shrouds you in. Relaxing in the lower garden with the matcha and a sweet snack, done properly, will perhaps provide a memory of meditating monks from the collective unconscious to arise and permeate the day.

The Japanese government declared Daijōkaku (the main house), the Jibutsudō (a Buddhist shrine), the Chashitsu (tea house), and the Chūmon (the middle gate) as tangible cultural properties (tōroku yūkei bunkazai) in 2003. A particular highlight is getting there via the special Sagano Scenic Railway at Torokko Arashima Station. Although the closest station is Arashiyama on the Keifuku Electric Railroad Arashiyama Main Line, this sojourn is not about convenience or getting in and out. It is about the journey itself.

The 1000 yen admission includes matcha green tea and an odd little snack. Open from 9:00 to 17:00.

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

Chikurin no Komichi – Sunlight Sneaks Through the Canopy along the path of Bamboo Groves in Arashiyama

In the western part of Kyoto along the Katsura river lies a heavily templed area known as Arashiyama. Most famous of all the beautiful century old wooden structures in Arashiyama is the Tenryu-ji Temple complex. Tenryu-ji Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), head temple of the Tenryu-ji Rinzai Zen sect, was built in 1339 by Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the first Ashikaga shogun. At its peak, Tenryu-ji Temple ranked as the largest Zen monastery in western Japan, with 120 sub-temples. The temple’s exquisite pond garden dates back to the Heian period and the garden itself is the work of Muso Soseki (1275-1351), one of the most respected Zen monks of the 14th century. Just outside the northern gate of the temple is Arashiyama’s famous bamboo forest path–Chikurin no Komichi.

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

Protected by Soft Brown Layerings, Fresh Shoots Strike Through the Grove Floor

Depending on the weather and time of day the light and shadow along this serene 200-meter path in concert with the wind flowing through the canopy will transport you to a meditative world of centuries past–a world without phones, cars and trains where walking through the grove was a regular zen meditative practice.

Easy enough to find after contemplating Soseki’s garden mirroring the surrounding mountainous landscape, the bamboo grove offers another treasure: the former estate of Denjiro Okochi (1898-1962), Japan’s most famous silent film star. Known as Ōkōchi Sansō, the spiral garden and teahouse complex houses a wondrous history worth exploring (entry includes a fine ceramic bowl of whipped green tea). The views from the seat of Ōkōchi Sansō, Mt. Ogura, has been talked about in classical poetry since Heian times.

Assuming you find, enter and tea party it up at Ōkōchi Sansō (participating in the tea ceremony is integral to the zen experience), following the bamboo forest path back to the diminutive Nonomiya Shrine (you passed it on the way up) should prove another small feat. Listen to the wind rustling through the bamboo leaves and picture Lady Murasaki’s 11th century classic Tale of Genji. The petite size of Nonomiya Shrine–where much like in the novel, generations of imperial princesses once spent a year undergoing purification rites before moving on to the sacred heart of Japanese Shintoism, Ise Grand Shrine–makes one wonder where they all were purified.

Having completed the western leg of your journey into the zen heart of Kyoto, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop by one of the many riverside restaurants and get meditative with a few draught beer.

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