Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 6, 2013

The Gardens of Jonangu (Kyoto, Gardens, Shrines)

The site of the Jonangu Shrine, one the east bank of the Kamo River in what is now the southern part of Kyoto, once was the extensive Detached Palace Emperor Shirakawa and his successors. When the palace was built in the 11th century, it stood in a pastoral river landscape south of the capital. The name, "Jo-nan" points at the shrine's location as it simply means "South of the Capital."

Stone lantern and azalea, Jonangu Kyoto
[Haru no Yama Garden]

It is not clear how old the shrine is. The shrine's own history makes a link with the myth of Empress Jingu and her just as mythical conquest of Korea, and also mentions that the shrine guarded the southern direction when Emperor Kammu set up the capital here. But the shrine is not mentioned in the 10th century Engishiki, which covers all important shrines of the country, so it seems logical to assume it was founded later than the 10th c. Indeed, its first mention in a reliable historical text is in connection with the Toba detached palace of the 11th c. The shrine apparently formed part of a temple-shrine complex inside the palace, and was called the "Myojin of Jonan Temple." The shrine's deity may have been seen as a protector of the detached palace.

Pond garden, Jonangu Kyoto
[Heian Garden - the pond]

The shrine shared the fate of the tragic destruction of said palace, but was later reconstructed. It seems to have been a fairly small and insignificant facility, a pious reminder of the imperial villas that once stood in this area. The last Kyoto emperor, Komei, visited the shrine and like all things imperial it rose in standing in the Meiji Period. The present buildings date from the late 1970s, when the shrine was rebuilt after a fire. It is in pleasant and simple State-Shinto style, with unpainted wood and cedar bark roofs, what again points at its modern origins.

There are five gardens at Jonangu, and they are all new just like those the Heian Shrine. They were designed in the late seventies by the famous landscape architect Nakane Kinsaku (1917-1995).

Meandering path, meandering stream, Jonangu Kyoto
[Heian Garden - the meandering stream for Kyokusui no Utage]

The first garden is called Haru no Yama or Spring Hill. There is man made hill from which a brook flows, there are plum trees, camellias, azalea bushes and a bamboo grove. The stream is the location for a purification ceremony, Hitogata Nagashi, held between June 25 and 30 (people transfer their pain and sorrow to the cut-out figure of a human and let that flow away in the stream). You will also find plantings of flowers mentioned in the Genji Monogatari.

The second garden is the centerpiece at Jonangu and is called Heian Garden. It's main element is a large pond with an artificial hill at the back, many solitary stones simulating islands in the pond and again a stream leading out of the pond into the garden. This is a very attractive and well composed garden, with lots of details. The plantings add color in all seasons.

Islands in a pond, Jonangu Kyoto
[Muromachi Garden]

The meandering stream leading out of the pond is the location for the twice-annual "Kyokusui no Utage" poetry festival. Held in April and November, people in Heian-period court costumes float cups with sake in the stream and have to compose a waka poem when the cup reaches them. A colorful spectacle that is worth visiting.

The next garden is called Muromachi Garden. This garden is again dominated by a pond, divided in half by a stone bridge. At the edge stands a tea house (where you can have matcha). There is again a lot of interesting rock work. Plantings include azaleas and small pine trees. At the back of the pond you will see a stone torii gate.

Rocks on a lawn, Jonangu Kyoto
[Momoyama Garden]

The fourth garden (connected with the third) is the Momoyama Garden. This time we find a wide lawn with a rock garden and trees and neatly clipped hedges at the back. This a garden that feels very modern in spirit. It is a sort of re-interpretation of real Momoyama rock gardens. The lawn is a European influence and replaces the raked sand. There is a good balance between all elements. This is perhaps the most interesting garden at Jonangu.

Finally, the fifth garden is called Jonan Rikyu Garden. This one is smaller than the previous ones. It consist of areas of monkey grass and white gravel, a nice contrast. In the green grass stands various rocks. It is an abstract garden, but also symbolizes the arrangement of the various palaces in green gardens at the banks of a large lake (the sand).

Palaces on a lake, Jonangu Kyoto
[Jonan Rikyu Garden]

A 15-min walk south-west of Takeda Station on the subway and Kintetsu lines. Walk south along the line and turn west at a sake shop where you also see the pagoda of the Konoe Tomb. Turn south to the large road with traffic lights and follow this road in a western direction. Pass under the ramp of the expressway. After seeing the area with love hotels on your right, you will find the white walls of Jonangu on your left. Go around to find the entrance. Gardens open 9:00-16:30 (last entry 16:00). 500 yen. Shrine grounds free.