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Sanzenin Temple and Japanese Garden in Kyoto | A Lesson in Patience and Slowing Down

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Japanese gardens have taught me a thing or 2 about patience and slowing down. When we are in these spaces of calm, we are more reflective and intuitive.

We drove about an hour and a half from our home in Fukui to Kyoto, along the Sea of Japan and lake Biwa, then weaving our way through the mountains until we reached the outskirts of Kyoto, an area called Ohara. There lies a hidden gem of a Japanese garden called Sanzenin.

It was originally established as a hermitage by Saicho and is part of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.

There are 2 main gardens with one being “Shuheki-en” which can be viewed from the veranda, and the other being a pond-strolling garden called “Yusei-en.” This part of the garden is filled with carpets of moss that have been taken care of for centuries.

They say there are over 2000 species of moss in Japan alone. As I wandered through the moss garden, I could see a few gardeners tending to the meticulous weeding and cleaning of the garden. The pride they took in caring for this slow growing moss was admirable.

Many of us want a moss garden, but do we really have the patience to allow it spread and weed it to let it shine?

Throughout the garden you can see many hidden guardian deities with child-like faces called Jizo. These Jizo statues among the moss are part of what make this temple and garden unique.

How much time and energy do you have for your garden?

Native species tend to require less work. Often with less watering necessary as well because the species is already adapted to the environment. We often want that exotic look but a more natural Japanese style garden is probably also going to fit your space better.

Things take time and you learn from gardening that you can’t rush nature. You can plant tree or shrub, water it and care for it, and even though sometimes the plants are highly pruned and shaped, it takes time to become something. You have to enjoy this process.

The Japanese garden forces you to pay attention to the different seasons which often pass by unnoticed. Each season brings with it a different demand on the garden, whether it be pruning time or cleanup, adding a new shrub or wrapping it for winter.

An investment in your garden is an investment in yourself. When you spend time in the garden you are allowing yourself to unwind from the distractions of the world, but at the same time you are connecting with something bigger than us, something outside of ourselves.

The same could be said about any type of garden I guess, but it’s the Japanese garden that draws me in and creates a space where I can stroll through or sit and contemplate life, art, imagination. It’s places like this that cause me to slow down, and I’m often left with a spark of creativity.

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