Sunday November 26, 2017
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The Sagano Bamboo Forest is a green oasis. — Pictures by CK LimThe Sagano Bamboo Forest is a green oasis. — Pictures by CK LimKYOTO, Nov 26 — We are in a world of green. Walls of bamboo — stalks and leaves — soar so high that barely a sliver of sunlight slips through. We hear the wind through this otherworldly grove, a mysterious music soothing nerves we didn’t know we have.

Till we leave the city behind for the mountains, rivers and forests of Arashiyama.

Only 15 minutes away by train from Kyoto, Arashiyama feels like a world apart. The first thing that greets us is the iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge. For over four centuries, this 155-metre bridge — which spans the shallow, slow-flowing Katsura River — has drawn nature lovers during the spring cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.

The iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge over Katsura River.The iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge over Katsura River.The colours exploding all over Arashiyama Mountain on the opposite bank are not unlike Mother Nature’s own fireworks. We observe cormorants diving into the river to fish for their supper. We hear the delight of children feeding the river carps (koi).

And so the cycle of life continues.

Legend has it that couples cross the bridge together to break up — rather than mend their relationship — if they’re in a bad patch. Young lovers busily taking selfies here seem blissfully unaware. Perhaps what matters isn’t “now and forever” but simply “right now” — after all, what’s captured on social media is the closest to “forever”, right?

And so the cycle of love continues.

Vibrant autumnal colours bursting from both banks of the Hozu River.Vibrant autumnal colours bursting from both banks of the Hozu River.Katsura River may appear innocuous but it is birthed from another river, the smaller but far speedier Hozu River that winds through the mountains.

The autumnal colours are even more vibrant here. Nothing beats the spectacle of seeing fire, gold and jade bursting from both banks; no surprise the river cruises are popular.

Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s Five Great Zen Temples.Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s Five Great Zen Temples.From the bridge, it’s an easy walk to the Tenryu-ji Temple. Originally built in 1334, it is one of Kyoto’s Five Great Zen Temples and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Entering via the red torii gate, aflame with autumn reds during fall, we are welcomed into an oasis for contemplation.

The red torii gate, aflame with red foliage during fall (left). A Zen Buddhist monk in prayer (right).The red torii gate, aflame with red foliage during fall (left). A Zen Buddhist monk in prayer (right).Everything is landscaped according to a Zen ideal by Muso Soseki, the temple’s first head priest, from the rock-ringed pond to the pebble garden.

We wander without hurry, passing the hojo (main hall) where prayers are held. The meticulously raked pebbles, the murmur of monks in supplication, the forest of pines in the background: every detail is an opportunity to meditate.

The central pond of Tenryu-ji Temple.The central pond of Tenryu-ji Temple.Here is peace; here is calm, even amidst the profusion of colour. Jade, gold and fire are reflected on the cool blue surface of the pond, itself a mirror of the cool blue sky. Barely a cloud in sight. This tapestry is all the more beautiful, all the more precious, for its fleeting quality.

Our stroll brings us out back, and we find ourselves in the Sagano Bamboo Forest. There is but one path through the forest. We amble slowly uphill then back down again. No destination here, only the path.

Landscaped Zen pebble garden designed by Muso Soseki.Landscaped Zen pebble garden designed by Muso Soseki.Whenever a breeze blows, the bamboo grove trembles and whispers softly: a gentle, uncanny music.

How otherworldly, how mysterious! Come early enough (or late enough) and the throngs won’t have arrived (or have already left). What better place to enjoy some solitude, but among the lush green of a jade forest?

Evergreen, untouched by gold and fire, a place painted with a solitary colour. A most singular realm in which to ponder and, perhaps, discover a piece of ourselves we have yet to meet.

Togetsukyo Bridge
Tenryuji-susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan
One minute walk from Keifuku Railway Arashiyama Station

Tenryu-ji Temple
68 Saga Tenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan
Open daily 8:30am-5:30pm Mar-Oct; 8:30am-5pm Nov-Feb
Admission: 600 yen (RM22.50)
www.tenryuji.com

Sagano Bamboo Forest
Exit the north gate of Tenryu-ji Temple, turn left to reach the forest entrance

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