No doubt if you visit Japan you will come across Japanese temples and gardens. My first reaction upon stepping into a temple was something along the lines of:
“OMG SO COOLLLLL!!!!! I’M GONNA VISIT EVERY TEMPLE IN JAPAN!!!!”
Eventually you’ll be thinking:
“Show me another temple, Japan, and I’ll stab you in the face with this chopstick.”
This is known to many as the feeling of ‘temple burnout’ and is similar to the infamous ‘church/museum burnout’ that accompanies most visitors to Europe when they realise that there is no point going to any more churches once they have seen St. Paul’s Basilica because they’re all the same.
Of course the above is a joke, and the Japanese are an ancient and traditional society not there to cater for stupid Western tourists. However, from the point of view of a tourist, most of the temples and gardens in Japan, despite being extraordinarily tastefully designed and beautiful to be around, are mostly the same thing. You stand outside marvelling at the architecture for 5-10 minutes, then pay between 300 and 1000 yen to enter. The insides are most likely decorated in the Zen style, with tatamis (mats) lining the floor. Some of them you’re allowed to take photos, some of them you’re not (but everyone was anyway).
Of course, this is a very simplistic way to look at it, but for the average Joe-visitor to Japan, once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all (there are exceptions, such as the elaborate gold temples of Nikko). Don’t get me wrong though, the first temples I saw were totally and completely fascinating to me, and I soaked up the atmosphere like a jaded Western tourist should. There are so many compelling aspects to temples, from the basins for washing your hands (Tsukubai), to incense sticks, to the white prayer notes that people tie to bamboo (O-mikuji). It’s great to watch the busy worshippers come and go.
Then you get to the gardens. Possibly some of the most peaceful and contemplative locations in any city or suburb in the world. They’re nothing like Western gardens, instead using asymmetrical features like hilltops, ponds and crooked trees to create a ‘cultivated but natural’ feeling, and are full of symbolism and intricate design.
The most memorable gardens were those that incorporated viewing platforms. This garden in Kanazawa for example, which is actually not located inside a temple but rather a ‘Samurai house’ (which I highly recommend visiting), has a platform that you can sit comfortably with no shoes on and watch the fish swimming in the most elegant and exquisite pond a fish could ever dream of.
There are all sorts of features to be found, like this bamboo thing that I kept seeing and still have no idea what it is:
And most of the time you’ll just be totally overloaded with visual stimuli:
A good rule to keep in mind would be: Japanese temples and gardens are seriously beautiful, and you will love them the first few times! They are really great thing to experience – just don’t rely on them to maintain their allure!
Have you experienced temple burnout? Please let me know!
I will be writing more posts about Japan and I would love to hear your comments!