Like Ginkaku-ji, Nanzen-ji began as a retirement villa and was later converted to a Zen temple. The original 13th century buildings were destroyed during a period of civil war, and the oldest buildings on the site now date to the late 16th century. The main level of the temple consists of the large Sanmon gate, the Hatto, or Dharma Hall, and the Hojo Hall with its surrounding gardens. We were interested in looking for the waterfall shrine mentioned in our guidebook, which led us to bypass these main attractions initially. We started off by crossing under the large red-brick aqueduct, which was built during the Meiji period to connect Kyoto with Lake Biwa in the adjacent prefecture. This took us to the Nanzen-In sub-temple and garden, which is small but very lovely.
From here, the directions in the book were not very clear, so we had a couple of false starts in trying to find the waterfall. The first path we followed in the woods petered out after a little while. After backtracking and reorienting, we found the right trail heading in the opposite direction. After a bit of climbing up the hillside, we found the shrine area and then climbed the rest of the way to the waterfall. As the book suggested, this shrine is not visited by many tourists; we had it to ourselves. It was easy to appreciate why people would choose this quiet and peaceful location for prayer.
This was an unexpectedly cold day, and I was not dressed warmly enough. One knee started hurting on the way back down to the main temple complex, and I was feeling a bit miserable and uncomfortable by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. Dan persuaded me to go into the Hojo and see the garden, and I’m glad he did. The late afternoon light emphasized the wonderful textures on the sliding doors between the hall and the garden, and the fusuma paintings were good to see. I got a kick out of walking on the ‘nightingale floor’ that squeaks when you walk across it – apparently designed to foil nighttime assassins. On our way out, Dan and I shared a good eyeroll at the persistent tourist asking endless (ridiculous) questions of the very patient (and polite) woman staffing the ticket window.
We decided to take a cab back to our hotel, even though it was not a very long walk away, because I wasn’t feeling too robust at this point. Much to my delight, the seats of the cab had immaculate white lace covers on them, very much unlike every other cab I have gotten into in my life.