"Wabi-sabi" is an aesthetic concept unique to Japan. "Wabi" refers to the feeling of thinking of austere and simple things, and of quietness, as beautiful; and "Sabi" refers to the kind of beauty that shows from within as something becomes old or damaged. Here we will feature some spots where you can get a feeling of the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi".
1. The Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Kyoto)
The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is famous for its Main Hall, which has been built to protrude out of the slope of the mountain and is also known as "The Stage of Kiyomizu-dera", but it also has a garden called the "Moon Garden" in a separate building called "Jojuin". This is a valuable spot that is open to the general public for a few days twice a year, and it is designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty. The view of the garden can be enjoyed from inside "Jojuin", and it features a pond surrounded by beautiful plants, and strategically placed ornamental stones in rare shapes and stone lanterns. The sound of the water as it overflows the stone washbasin is also one of the garden's charms. The garden itself is not that big, but it makes use of its background, which includes Mt. Otowa at the back, to create the effect of depth, resulting in a wonderful scenery. It is located at about a 30 min. bus ride from Kyoto station.
2. Kenrokuen (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Kenrokuen, located in Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa prefecture, is a garden built by a feudal lord that ruled over the area during the Edo period, and it is considered to be one of the three most famous gardens of Japan. The harmony between nature and the stones used to build the garden is simply amazing, and it is characterized by its atmosphere and view, which make use of the differences in the elevation of the ground. The fountain, which is said to be the oldest in Japan, is a must-see as well. Japanese gardens are known for offering outstanding views all throughout the four seasons. In the case of Kenrokuen, as it is located in an area known for its snow, the garden is especially popular for the scenery it offers during the winter, and the "yukitsuri" (ropes stretched from the top of a tree to the lower branches to prevent their breaking with the weight of the snow) have become a typical image of the winter. With the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, this garden is now accessible from Tokyo by train in just under 3 hours. Make sure that you pay it a visit at least once!
3. Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane Prefecture)
The Adachi Museum of Art, located in Yasugi-shi, Shimane prefecture, is a museum whose collection revolves mainly around contemporary Japanese style paintings, including nothing less than 130 paintings by Taikan Yokoyama, considered to be one of the most representative painters of Japan. In addition, the museum is surrounded by an area of over 165,000 square meters featuring Japanese-style gardens, which are considered special places of scenic beauty. The gardens are divided in 6 themes, such as the "Dry Landscape Garden" (where white sand and small stones are used to represent the surface of water) and the "White Gravel and Pine Garden" (where white sand and green pines represent a beautiful seashore), and they are the perfect place to get a sense of what "wabi-sabi" is. According to late Zenko Adachi, the founder of the museum, "the gardens are just one more painting", and they are actually highly valued overseas for "being beautiful just like a painting". The gardens are a 3 hour flight away from Tokyo.
4. Miyajima (Hiroshima Prefecture)
Miyajima is the familiar name of Itsukushima island, a remote island in Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima prefecture. The whole island has been the object of devotion from ancient times, and the Itsukushima Shrine, which has become a symbol of it, receives large numbers of visitors both from within Japan and from overseas. The large torii, which stands amidst the water, along with the temple hall protruding over it, are built in a bold and rare style that cannot be seen anywhere else in Japan. When the tide is in, the Itsukushima Shrine looks as if it was floating on the water, like a Japanese version of the Mont Saint-Michel. The vermilion colored torii and shrine hall stand out against the water and the mountains.
To access the island, one must ride a train for about 30 minutes from Hiroshima station to Miyajima-guchi station, and then get on a ferry boat for about 10 minutes.
5. Jishoji Temple (Ginkakuji) (Kyoto)
Jishoji, in Kyoto, is a temple built in 1490 and known under the name of "Ginkakuji" (Silver temple) because of its "Ginkaku" or "Kannonden" (a building dedicated to a sculpture of the Kannon Bosatsu). The Ginkaku was built as a reproduction of the golden shiny "Kinkaku". However, in contrast with the gorgeous Kinkaku, which is decorated with gold leaves, the Ginkaku had originally a more austere appearance, as it was painted with black lacquer from the beginning. Even today, the lacquer on the walls has not been repainted and show the passage of time, making the Ginkaku the ultimate representation of "wabi-sabi". The gardens that surround the Ginkaku, which have been designated as Historic Sites / Places of Special Scenic Beauty, are also a must-see, along with the view of the town of Kyoto that can be enjoyed from the temple. The Jishoji temple is located at about a 40 min. ride from Kyoto station by bus.
"Wabi-sabi" is something that you may get a feeling of only in the kind of exotic atmosphere characteristic of Japanese traditional culture. How would you like getting a feeling of what "wabi-sabi" is in the kind of spots where you can truly dive into Japanese culture and atmosphere?