Kyoto’s Shimyouin Temple: Exceedingly Remote, Bashful, and Serene
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Private Viewing House-side garden at the Shimyouin Temple (志明院) remote northern mountains of Kyoto Japan -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 900 — map & image datanearby photos
Private Viewing
House-side garden at the Shimyouin Temple (志明院)
remote northern mountains of Kyoto Japan

During yesterday's trip into the woods of northern Kyoto, we came across the remote Shimyouin Temple (志明院) at the end of a dead-end road that branches off from another dead-end road; in other words, it's remote.

As I wrote yesterday, I was with Paul Barr and Katsunori Shimada, and we were out on one of our photo expeditions, having spent the previous two Thursdays similarly occupied in Uji (as evidenced by many posts recent, such as this, this, this, and many more I've yet to write). We take a lot of photos among us because that's our main goal, yet it speaks as a testament to yesterday's Shimyouin Temple that we spent the better part of two hours enjoying it without taking a single photo among us.

Garden and Background Waterfall -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/100 sec, f/2.5, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos
Garden and Background Waterfall
No Cameras Beyond This Point -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/7.1, ISO 3600 — map & image datanearby photos
No Cameras Beyond This Point

Photography is completely forbidden beyond the big gate through which the path leads up the mountain to the main temple and its various associated sites; we had to leave our cameras at the priest's house by the parking lot. They feel that the area is too holy to allow photography (though I don't understand the relationship between the two).

I didn't enjoy that I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but it's their land and I'm free to leave if I don't agree to their rules. I'm glad I stayed, because after paying the 300 yen to enter, dropping off my camera, and passing through the gate and heading up the mountain to the temple and its various sites, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It's not that it was particularly spectacular in any particular way, but it felt completely “real” and noncommercial. In comparison, a popular tourist spot like the Kiyomizu Temple feels as superficial as Disneyland.

They have a little waterfall/fountain that claims to be the source of the Kamo River that runs down the eastern length of Kyoto. It wasn't more than a small stream up there, but by the time it gets to the city proper, it can be quite the angry river.

Gate and Steps Beyond -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Gate and Steps Beyond

As nice as the site was, the real treat for me was chatting with the priest and his wife. The wife had lived at the site for 42 years, since marrying the priest, and was as cute as a button. We were talking about living life so remotely, and she lamented that the best they could do for an Internet connection was ISDN (a technology so slow that it would take the better part of 30 seconds to download just the first thumbnail in this post). The way she pouted as she said osoi mon... (“it's so slow”) was cute beyond words. I guess you had to be there.

Paul and I enjoyed a lazy coffee in the house while viewing the garden and the rain, while Shimada-san opted for green tea. We were in no rush about anything. It was really nice. We had the place to ourselves the entire time.

Eventually the priest, Masumi Tanaka (田中真澄) returned home, and we all chatted. He's 72, looks and acts much younger, and is full of personality. Sadly, they declined my request to take their portrait (“It's embarrassing!”), but a web search found them in this photo flanking a visitor two weeks ago.

However, he did grant us permission to take photos of the garden from the house, so it's at that time we broke out the cameras, and one such photo leads this post.

One of the stone lanterns in the garden reminded me more of the Vancouver Olympic symbol than a Japanese stone lantern...

Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 4000 — map & image datanearby photos

As I started to write this post, I compared the time of the first garden photo to the time of a photo I took in the parking lot when we arrived (of a sign showing the name of the temple). I'd expected that it might be 30 or 45 minutes that we had enjoyed the temple and the garden, so was quite surprised to find that we had lolled around for 110 minutes. I guess it was just that enjoyable.

Priest's House -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 320 — map & image datanearby photos
Priest's House
Looking Down to the Parking Lot -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO 320 — map & image datanearby photos
Looking Down to the Parking Lot
Monks' Quarters -- Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 320 — map & image datanearby photos
Monks' Quarters

The temple is apparently a training ground for the “marathon monks” of nearby Mt. Hiei, though none are in residence at the moment. (Kyoto friend Nils Ferry wrote a couple of years ago a bit about one of these “marathon monks”, the 50th person — in the last 426 years — to complete the full 1,000 day ordeal, here.)

There were a few stone things near the parking lot (not lanterns, but more like tabernacles of some kind), covered with moss and ferns, which is always pretty...

Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Shimyouin Temple (志明院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos

The priest and his wife both speak a bit of English, and they welcome visitors and even small groups, and are quite friendly. Extremely off the beaten path and difficult to get to without a car (the nearest bus service comes as close as a mile away, but it will end early next year), but highly recommended if you bring the right attitude to appreciate what the place and its people has to offer.

Continued here...


All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

Thanks for sharing such a nice place. So jealous…

— comment by luc renambot on June 18th, 2011 at 10:48am JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I may have mentioned it before, by I am so envious at you for living in Kyoto with a car and a scooter. There is a world of difference between what you find on your explorations and what I find when I attempt to go off the beaten path in Tokyo (of course, there is no such thing!). Thanks for sharing all the beauty and atmosphere – I will certainly use your blog as my tourist guide next time I visit Kyoto.

— comment by Jonas on June 18th, 2011 at 10:57am JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I did not understand why they did not allow photography at Chusonji in Iwate either. I figured it was because they wanted people to visit. It might be because of people with P&S cameras who always use the flash. Maybe the religion part is not disturbing the way things are.

— comment by sixmats on June 19th, 2011 at 1:17pm JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I arrived here via your post about the mosses at the Giouji Temple, Kyoto (you posted that 10 years and 5 mionths ago!) whilst seaching for information on moss gardens/kokedera. I am establishing a moss garden and I am looking for inspiration. So, completely distracted from my original intent, I continued exploring the rest of Japan meandering through your blog. I am so surprised and glad to see that you still continue to share your adventures. I really enjoyed reading your impressions and admiring you beautiful photos and will be visiting again. Thank you!

— comment by Lize on November 19th, 2017 at 8:17pm JST (3 weeks, 4 days ago) comment permalink
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