The Prince of Moss

To continue with the Zelda theme in my last post, a few days ago I toured a place popularly known as the ‘Moss Temple’ (苔寺). Although the official name of this Zen Buddhist temple is Saihō-ji (西芳寺), for many tourists the religious significance of the site is overshadowed by a grove adjacent to the prayer hall where the earth is saturated with over 120 types of moss that were cultivated in the Meiji Period. The grounds also have the distinction of being an original site of one of venerated Prince Shōtoku’s seventh century villas; the land is tucked in between the Western border of Kyoto city and the former aristocratic resort town of Arashiyama. This Prince guy apparently traveled quite extensively, and many places in more backwater areas of the country are landmarks because there is record of the Prince visiting (e.g. Dōgo Onsen in Matsuyama).

Even though the garden has received international recognition as one of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to help preserve the moss, some measures have been taken to limit pilgrimages. First, there’s an admission fee of 3000 JPY (~$30), which is roughly 5 times the average entrance fee for a garden/temple in Kyoto. Second, tours are only administered once per day, and you have to mail in a two-sheet postcard (往復はがき) – one sheet is used for the reply – with your reservation request (in Japanese) at least a week in advance. Thirdly, before gaining admittance to the moss grove, guests are required to participate in a prayer ritual by writing their name, address, and a wish on a cedar prayer stick. Sticks are then collected and subsequently burned (護摩) so that the wishes may come true. In the past this last part also involved copying a sutra with a calligraphy brush, but it seems that the managers have axed this procedure to accommodate foreign guests unfamiliar with Chinese characters.

In any case, as the pictures above demonstrate, the magical, shimmering green views make all the effort worthwhile.

Return postcard

Basically, the date I originally requested was already booked up.

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