Autumn leaves dress resort Kyoto

08:58, November 29, 2010      

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Nestled in the western hills of Kyoto, the semi-rural town of Arashiyama, renowned for its ancient temples, peaceful bamboo groves, mountain trails and riverside promenades, becomes wildly popular in autumn when the leaves on most trees begin to change to yellow, red and shade of orange, coating the mountains in brilliant colors.

Japanese people have long admired the beauty of autumn leaves, a frequent subject in its literature and art. In ancient times, momiji-gari or "autumn leaf-hunting" was a traditional pastime. People made excursions into the hills and fields to see the changing tints of the autumn leaves.

In modern times, with the vast improvements in transportation, people from all over the country, and even the world, now come to visit places like Arashiyama, famous for its beautiful autumn foliage.

Though the celebration of the changing leaves lasts all season or until the leaves lie scattered on the riverbanks and along street curbs, one day in November is dedicated to the sheer expression of joy and gratitude for such a glorious season.

Since its inauguration in 1947, the Autumn Leaves Festival has grown into a big event with dramatic and musical performances staged on flat-bottomed boats decorated with mythical phoenix mastheads that course the river amongst small row-boaters.

The centerpiece a stationary boat hosts a sacred drama known as Nenbutsu Kyogen. Considered an important cultural asset, this traditional sacred theater dates back some 700 years. It is essentially a prayer to the Buddha in the form of a comic drama in which masked actors perform a mime to the musical accompaniment of a gong and a haunting flute.

Today they are performing "The Pilgrimage to Mt. Atago" that tells the story of a mother and daughter who take the pilgrimage to sacred mountain shrine in the northwestern part of Kyoto known for its power to prevent fires.

Besides its beautiful autumn leaves, Kyoto, considered the cultural center of Japan, has some of the most famous temples, shrines. Matsuo Shrine is one of Kyoto's oldest.

Founded in 701, it is known for the purity of its water, designated as one of the best in the country. Sake-brewing families have long been devoted to the shrine as you can see from the large stacks of sake barrels. Local brewers believe that sake made with a little of this shrine water mixed into the brew will not go bad. The well water spews from the mouth of this turtle statue, revered as a messenger of the mountain deity.

Seiryoji Temple is known for its standing statue of Shakyamuni Buddha that shows the sage as an Indian prince at age 37. The priest Chonan, who studied Buddhism in China, brought the statue back to Japan with him in 985 and established this temple to enshrine it.

In 1953 a space in the statue was discovered and silk objects shaped like human internal organs were found inside. With them were documents that showed that five Chinese nuns had put the silk organs into the body of the original statue while it was still in China.

Now called "The Living Statue of Buddha," it is a Japanese National Treasure that shows not only deep reverence but the advanced knowledge of human anatomy practiced in China 1,000 years ago.

This single image has served as a model for copies made for temples in many parts of Japan.

Tenryuji, a Zen Buddhist temple, was built in 1339 on the place where Emperor Go-Daigo's favorite villa once stood. Go-Daigo was the emperor who brought an end to the Kamakura shogunate, but was then forced from his throne by Takauji Ashikaga. After his death, the priest Musou Souseki had a dream of a golden dragon rising from the nearby Oi River and interpreted it as a sign of the emperor's uneasy spirit.

The temple was constructed to pacify his spirit. In the Lecture Hall (Hattou) of the temple one can see a huge dragon in a cloud painted on the ceiling from which the temple Tenryuji or "Heavenly Dragon" gets its name.

The temple's main attraction is the 14th century Zen garden with its large carp pond, vertical stones, raked gravel borders, and magnificent pine trees. Using a technique called "borrowed scenery," the priest Musou Soseki designed the garden to resemble Mt. Hourai in China.

Upstream from Togetsu Bridge, which crosses above the banks of the Katsura River, and behind Tenryuji is a nice place to escape the crowds of Arashiyama. Laced with trails amidst delicate cherry trees and robust pines, near the first fork in the road is a stone monument erected thirty-one years ago to commemorate the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai's contributions to the enduring peace and friendship between China and Japan. The stone is 1.3 meters high and 2.2 wide, and engraved on its face is a poem written by Premier Zhou Enlai in Kyoto on April 5, 1919 on the eve of his return to China and is entitled "Arashiyama in the Rain".

The poem pays tribute not only to the lovely landscape of Arashiyama, but also expresses the late Chinese premier's joy at finding a single ray of truth. This spot is now attracting visitors from around the world, most notably from China.

Of the more than 100 species of maples in the world, over 20 are native to Japan. The one most admired is the Japanese maple for its delicate and bright red leaves. To visitors, the changing season in Kyoto is really enjoyable.

Source: Xinhua


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