September 8, 2014
Akiho Kamijo and Shiho Iwasaki
The Ohara area of Kyoto is about one hour by bus from Kyoto Station. It lies in the western foothills of Mount Hiei, one of the holiest mountains in Japan.There are a number of famous temples here, and the scenery changes by the season. In the spring, the cherry blossoms are incredible, and in the autumn the leaves offer a riot of vivid color. We will now introduce a few of the most interesting aspects for tourists to see and discover.
Sanzen-in, a temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect, is located here, and is famous for its elegant beauty and peaceful atmosphere. It was founded by a very famous monk called Saicho, and is a Monzeki temple, which means it was connected to the Japanese royal family. In the temple grounds, there are three distinct and important buildings; Ojo Gokurakuin, Shinden and Kyakuden.
The Ojo Gokurakuin Hall
The Ojo Gokurakuin Hall was first built at the end of the 10th century and is the oldest building in Sanzen-in. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, however, and this is the structure you can see today. The most important treasure of Sanzen-in is housed here, and this is the statue of Amida Buddha. There are also two other very important statues of gods that accompany Amida in the hall, and they are Seishi and Kannon.
The Shinden Hall
This is the main hall at Sanzen-in, and there is also another statue of Amida Buddha here. There are also two more statues to the left and right of him, and these are of Kannon and Fudo Myo. Outside of this hall is a spectacular moss garden, with Ojo Gokurakuin in the center.
The Kyakuden Hall
Built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, this is really a guest hall for receiving visitors, and is the first main building you go through when entering the temple. There are some beautiful examples of Japanese artwork and calligraphy on hand, especially the Fusumae, which are paintings or calligraphy on sliding doors. It is also possible to view the impressive Shuheiken Garden from here, which features a rather lovely pond.
Two of the many other interesting temples in the Ohara area, are Jikko-in and Shorin-in. Jikko-in is actually a sub-temple of Shorin-in, and is most notable for its gardens. These gardens feature elegantly shaped ponds, and have some very rare trees and plants in them, including Fudan-zakura, an exquisite variety of cherry blossom. Shorin-in is also known as Motoji Temple, and has a strong connection to traditional Japanese music. There are many historical documents and artifacts related to this temple, but the most valuable treasure here is probably the Bonsho, or Buddhist temple bell, which hails from the Fujihara era and is recognized as an Important Japanese Cultural Property.
Ajisai Matsuri (Hydrangea Festival)
The Ajisai Matsuri, or Hydrangea Festival, is held annually at Sanzen-in from mid-June to mid-July. More than 3,000 blooms are on display each year, and there are many varieties in a host of different colors. Although this event takes place at the height of the rainy season, it is worth the trip from Kyoto City, as the flowers can look even more impressive in a light rain or drizzle. There is an entrance fee to the gardens, but no reservation is required.
Oharame was the name given to the women of Ohara who used to sell their farm products in the surrounding areas, and Kyoto City, using a rather unique method of delivery. Basically, they would carry everything on their heads, from firewood to flowers to vegetables. This custom lasted for about 800 years, from the Kamakura Period to the early Showa Period. It was not unusual for these women to walk over 20 kilometers in a day often with loads of between 30 and 50 kilos. They were most distinctive, however, for the dark blue kimono they wore, with the sleeves tied up with ‘tasuki’, a special kind of string.
Ohara is a small, but very interesting hamlet just outside a major city, and with all the hidden delights on offer, is a really cool place to visit for a day, or even overnight. There are several places where you can stay here, and they have hot spring baths! Please take the time to come and enjoy Ohara.
From Kokusaikaikan Station on the Karasuma Subway Line – Take the Kyoto Bus No 19 to Ohara (approx. 20 minutes)
From Kyoto Station – Take Kyoto Bus No 17 to Ohara (approx. 60 minutes)