A Lone Cherry in a Zen Garden: Kyoto’s Kōdaiji

Travel

Kōdaiji, a temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, is the final resting place of Kita-no-Mandokoro, the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. A magnificent lone shidare-zakura, or weeping cherry tree, blooms in front of the abbot’s chamber in the Zen rock garden, a popular blossom-viewing spot.

The Weeping Cherry’s Delicate Blossoms Flutter in the Breeze

Kita-no-Mandokoro, wife of the lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–98), ordered the construction of Kōdaiji in 1606 to pray for her husband’s departed soul. The temple’s formal title is Kōdaijushōzenji—said to be taken from Kita-no-Mandokoro’s ordained name as a nun, Kōdai-in—but it is affectionately known as Nene’s temple, after her nickname. Kōdaiji is well-known for its attractive autumn leaves, but in spring, visitors are drawn by the lone shidare-zakura, or weeping cherry tree, that blossoms in the Zen rock garden Hashin’tei.

Hashin’tei’s solitary weeping cherry tree.
Hashin’tei’s solitary weeping cherry tree.

Zen gardens use pebbles and rocks to depict landscapes and flowing water, but flowering trees are uncommon.
Zen gardens use pebbles and rocks to depict landscapes and flowing water, but flowering trees are uncommon.

Surrounded by ripples of raked gravel, a single, dignified weeping cherry tree stands alongside an imposing gate, Chokushimon. The present tree is said to be the fourth to be planted here. Its branches, laden with pale pink blossoms, sway in the breeze, harmonizing with the stone ripples to produce a refined landscape.

Cherry blossoms present a beautiful contrast against the backdrop of the majestic gate, Chokushimon.
Cherry blossoms present a beautiful contrast against the backdrop of the majestic gate, Chokushimon.

Blossoms viewed from the ornamental window.
Blossoms viewed from the ornamental window.

Blossoms Alongside the Temple

Some 50 cherry trees, including yama-zakura (wild cherry) and somei yoshino varieties, are planted in the temple grounds. The blossoms are usually best enjoyed from late March up until mid-April, the height of the blooming season. Until early May, the grounds are specially illuminated and opened to visitors in the evening hours.

Cherry trees in Kōdaiji’s gardens overhang Nene-no-michi, a narrow, granite-paved street on the western perimeter of the temple. Rickshaws ply this alley, offering the chance to enjoy the blossoms with the wind in your hair.

A wild cherry tree blooms near the visitor reception.
A wild cherry tree blooms near the visitor reception.

Nene-no-michi enjoyed from a rickshaw. Yasaka’s pagoda is visible in the distance.
Nene-no-michi enjoyed from a rickshaw. Yasaka’s pagoda is visible in the distance.

Access: Kōdaiji is a 10-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on Kyoto Municipal Subway’s Tōzai Line or 15 minutes on foot from Gion-shijō Station on Keihan Railway.

Web: https://www.kodaiji.com/e_index.html

(Originally published in Japanese. Reporting and text by Fujii Kazuyuki, 96Box.)

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