Zen in the City


Open countryside and exploring small villages are where my mind relaxes and I can breath easy. I usually avoid spending time in the crush of the city. It was my plan, while on the bus from Osaka to Kyoto, to look for somewhere rural where I could pitch my tent and do some hiking. But Osaka led into Kyoto with no rural in between. Taking into consideration the high cost of getting around, combined with the fact that it has been snowing here for the past few days, I’m not inclined to explore the tent option anymore. 

In my teens, I had a poster in my bedroom of a shrine backed by stunning countryside with Kyoto written at the bottom. It looked like the most tranquil place I could imagine and I dreamed of going there. I am not in the rural Japan of my dreams but if I have to be in the city, Kyoto is the place.  

Nijo-jo Castle was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the Ist Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. It is built in a simple but elegant architectural style called shoin-zakuri. It has 33 empty rooms, over 800 tatami mats (the straw mats used in traditional Japanese rooms) and superb wall paintings. 

The garden is also built in the same style with a pond and a large island in its centre representing Horai-jima; The Island of  Eternal Happiness

The lady at the hostel reception desk said I should also see Rokuon-ji Temple (The Golden Pavillon). The snow makes it especially beautiful, she said. Apparently it only snows here once every couple of years but I don’t believe it; it’s been snowing almost since I arrived. Kyoto’s 1,475,000 residents also wanted to see the snow-covered Golden Temple. Imagine a free Rolling Stones concert at Mooneys Bay – that’s how many people it seemed were there. But it was indeed beautiful.


The famous Zen rock garden of Ryoanji Temple was also covered in snow when I saw it. It is a rectangular walled garden measuring 25 by 10 meters and was constructed in the Muromachi period around 1500. It has no trees and only 15 scattered rocks surrounded by white gravel. The walls are made of clay boiled in oil which has seeped out and made a beautiful Japanese style design. It was built by a highly respected Zen monk named Tokuho Zenketsu.  The stone wash basin is inscribed “I learn only to be contented”. The concept is an important philosophy in the Zen spirit. Words to live by!

15 responses »

  1. Arlene,

    I’m so thrilled to be going on another journey with you!!
    Through your words I feel transported to wherever you are. Thank you for sharing these experiences and letting me live so many adventures vicariously through you.

    You’re quite incredible.

    Safe travels!

    Hugs, Joey.

    • Joey, Im so happy to share the adventure with you. It makes it that much more worthwhile. Life is busy and I feel honoured that you take the time to read. Thank you ! Hugs, Arlene

  2. Hi Arlene – I saw the Golden Temple. Your notes with all the Japanese names and history is marvellous. But snow! Good grief, you left here to get away from that. I hope you found a warmer place to stay. Keep blogging, my dear friend, and stay safe! xo Di


    • Hi Di, I know right! The snow has been a bit of a shock! Apparently it’s been the biggest snowfall they have had in fifteen years. I leave for Tokyo on the midnight bus tonight. And fly out tomorrow night. Hugs, Arlene

  3. Great job getting a photo of the Golden Temple without people in it! The temple is beautiful and the snow really does add to the scene. It’s gorgeous.

    • Hi Nancy , I know. It was easier looking across the pond but you can’t imagine how long I waited to get that picture. It was lovely though. Hope you guys are doing well. Any news on your part? I leave on the midnight bus forTokyo tonight. Love you , Arlene

  4. Hey Arlene. It won’t let me post comments onto your blog because of a previous password it wants from me. No idea what that’s all about! Anyway, at least I can read them. Sounds like all is going well and your traveling adventures are keeping you safe as you explore so many corners of the world. Loving the posts. Keep them coming. Love and hugs Me

    Sent from my iPad

  5. Arlene, already enjoying your adventure with you. I wondered how you would respond when you arrived in Tokyo to 8 levels of freeways,etc. Loved your description of how unusual you seemed to the news reporter and photographer… stay safe and warm and know that the journey is shared.


    • Thanks Karen, I’ve been thinking about you guys. Hope you had a great rest. Yes, Tokyo was something for sure. Look forward to catching up when I see you. Thanks for reading. Xo

    • Thanks so much Glenda. I wanted to call before I left but the time got away from me. Thanks so much for coming along with me on th page. So glad you like them. Lots and lots of hugs and hoe you are well. Xo Arlene

  6. I’m behind in my reading adventure!! I so look forward to the other updates you’ve posted! Happy travels Arlene! xoxo

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