With a half-day’s worth of sightseeing in Dazaifu now behind us, let’s give ourselves a moment of respite by admiring a small but quite beautiful garden.
My next stop, the small temple of Kōmyōzen-ji (光明禅寺), stands just a few hundred metres due west of the Kyūshū National Museum. As of this writing, Google Maps’ default suggestion for getting from one to the other on foot is an unnecessarily long, 30-minute loop (unless they’ve refined their map data by the time of your route query), so I’ve cut out the direction search and simply zoomed in on the relevant area. Down the hill from the museum, featureless but pleasant stroll through a residential neighbourhood, and there you are.
After a quick detour to recharge on food (it was lunchtime, after all) and to wait out a light rain shower that had begun to fall over Dazaifu, I made my way towards one of the temple’s roadside entrances and stepped inside the walled compound.
Founded in 1273, Kōmyōzen-ji might have a few centuries under its belt, but it isn’t particularly large … or beautiful … or historically significant … or architecturally noteworthy. As seen from outside, it doesn’t seem to offer much beyond your typical small-town temple, with ordinary white-washed walls and the usual collection of tile-roofed structures.
It is, however, well worth visiting for its two karesansui gardens, which use rocks, plants, raked gravel and other elements to represent symbolic landscapes.
The smaller garden is in the front courtyard and can be visited without charge. If you’re too much of a skinflint to part with a measly two 100-yen coins, this part of the grounds is nice enough for a few snapshots.
The larger and (by far) more impressive garden is, however, set in the rear part of the temple, nestled within the hillside grove that surrounds much of the compound. To get there, toss 200 yen into the collection box at the entrance of the main hall and head for the back, admiring the simple yet elegant interiors along the way.
Soon, you’ll emerge onto a narrow wooden corridor that looks out over the splendid rear garden. Moss-covered “islands” and lichen-speckled rocks rise up from the ground, surrounded by fields of raked gravel that represent, in abstract fashion, the rippled surface of water rushing through streams and pouring into lakes.
I especially like this part – it looks as if someone had just thrown a pebble into the centre of a pond.
Behind the garden rises a steep, mossy hillside sprinkled with stone steps and carved monuments, although that area of the compound appears to be off-limits to visitors.
I think I’ll want to come back here someday, perhaps during the height of the kōyō season in autumn; the sight of fall colours set against the rich green carpet of moss and the stark white gravel should be easily worth another 200 yen.
And so ended my day at Dazaifu. There was a lot more that I didn’t get to see (particularly in the west of the city), but as always, I was quite glad to be left with an excuse to return in the future.
Back to the station on foot, thus completing the long loop that began from there in the morning…
…and thence to Fukuoka, where I spent the rest of the afternoon taking in a few of the sights there – but we’ll talk about that in a future post.
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