A short walk from JR Maibara Station at the base of Mount Futoh sits Seigan-Ji Temple. When we arrived at the heavily forested temple grounds, I immediately felt an odd sense of tranquility. The antiquity of the place could almost be felt, with tall proud trees and solemn shrines peering through the forest. Passing through the temple gate, I admired the meticulous craftsmanship and woodwork. Within the courtyard, a strange variety of small shrubs appeared to form a tiny forest of their own along the stone path. The temple itself was a fine example of Japanese architecture, with large sloping tiled-roofs, and dark wooden beams providing support.
Making our way into the entrance, we were kindly greeted by the friendly resident monk who maintains the temple. He brought us to observe the garden, the main attraction of the temple. As we gazed across the garden I felt as if we were being transported back in time to a world much different than our own. The centerpiece of the garden was a collection jagged rocks jutting out of the ground in a familiar shape that I couldn’t quite place. Sitting atop the feature was a lone matsu pine tree. I soon learned this represented a turtle with a crane on its back and it became very apparent. Surrounding the turtle feature was a patch of soft green moss which appeared to form a lake for the creature to call home. Bright pink flowers and shrubs dotted the garden, providing waypoints to guide the viewer through the numerous features of the garden.
The monk informed us that this particular type of garden was a “karesansui”, a kind of garden which creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent the ripples in water. This particular garden is unique in that it uses moss in place of gravel or sand to represent water. However, after heavy rains, this garden is designed to pool water into a small pond, which dramatically enhances the beauty of the garden. A series of wells were constructed long ago to channel the water and prevent flooding. It became apparent to me that this was no simple garden, but a masterfully designed work of art and engineering which took a large effort to create and maintain through the years.
After admiring the garden and the temple interior, I had the opportunity to try a form of meditation that involves tracing designs of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas on soft Japanese paper. Focusing on keeping the lines straight combined with the quietness of the temple was relaxing, and I felt centered afterwards.
Finally, we made our way to the temple’s cafe to order some refreshments. The cafe’s clean and modern design complimented the antiquity of the temple perfectly, and the garden view was excellent. I opted for the matcha cake and some iced green tea. The matcha cake was rich and fluffy, and went well with the smooth iced green tea, a perfect way to cap off our visit.
Seigan-Ji Temple is a great place to quiet the mind and refresh the spirit for weary travelers, and has a garden whose beauty must be experienced. The temple’s deep history is almost palpable, with many items of historical interest such as scrolls, stone lanterns, and more. I hope to visit this temple again soon, and enjoy the intimate connection to nature it provides.