is for niwa, or the Japanese word for Garden. The only place more ubiquitous to Japan than shrines and temples are gardens, and its not uncommon to see one or two of them inside the former two. In fact, one of the major draws to the lesser-known temples, shrines, estates and palaces in Japan is the quality of their garden. Since Japan is one of the lucky places on Earth that experiences four “true” seasons, this isn’t surprising. Many temples also have tea houses that serve the local specialty (which is usually matcha, or some sort of blossom or fruit tea). I can’t really recommend the pickled plum tea though, even if it does have gold flakes floating in it.
Most gardens have a very traditional feel to them, with stone buddhas, pagodas and boulder-sized decorations used as the center-points, surrounded by moss or some other low-growing shrub, and stone steps leading from one level to the other. Most trees are also carefully pruned, many needing support beams to support their intense upper weight, or cultivated to the point of being practically useless as a fruit (Japanese cherry trees do make cherries, but they’re about the size of a blueberry, and very, very bitter.)
The only time of year I avoid these beautiful respites from daily life is in summer, when the mosquito population rises to its full height. Unfortunately, with most gardens sporting stagnant water ponds, this is the carpe diem for the annoying little critters, and it makes it hard to enjoy it, what with all the humidity making it practically impossible to cover the entirety of your skin comfortably. Between the bites, and the deafening sound of cicada (video below), it’s not all that fun of a trip.
But, spring, fall, winter? Go!
Images hosted on Flickr.