This blog post is regarding the autumn illumination at Kodaiji, but the temple also does light up events throughout the year in different seasons. See their website HERE for seasonal info.
Of all the temples in Kyoto, Kodaiji is probably my second favorite. The variety of buildings and interesting layout of the temple are a superb example of the lavish style of the Momoyama era when Hideyoshi ruled Japan from Kyoto. Lots of great stories to tell at Kodaiji as well. I like to include it in tours because it's often overlooked by visitors in favor of well known spots in the area like Yasaka Jinja and Kiyomizudera, so it's a great chance to see something special.
However, the best time to see Kodaiji is at night! A few times every year, the temple opens up for limited evening viewings, one of which is occurring right now. I visited a few days ago, and it was even more amazing than usual.
The gardens at Kodaiji at managed by Yasuo Kitayama, a world renowned landscape artist. He began training as a landscaper at age 22, and was assigned only menial labor as training for the first three years. Carrying stones, cleaning logs, trimming hedges... tasks that didn't really need doing, but taught Kitayama the concept of nintai (endurance, perseverance, and patience). This led him to become a more well-rounded landscaper, and taught him that he can never say "that's enough." For Kitayama it's always "one hundred, or zero."
Kitayama's patience and training paid off, as he now is in charge of some of the most important Zen gardens in Kyoto. His current design for the karesansui (dry rock garden) at Kodaiji features raised patterns in the white stones that symbolize the Buddha surrounded by his disciples. The uzumaki (spirals in the gravel) radiating outward are related to the mind lighting up as one reaches enlightenment. It's quite a display, and because the dry garden changes patterns yearly, there's always a reason to return to Koudaiji.
Kitayama truly uses the rock garden as a palate on which to express different fantastic landscapes. Check out these pics from previous years. One year even featured a dragon made of roof tiles snaking its way through the sand!
This season, the rock garden is complemented with a modern light show. 3D projection mapping is HUGE in Japan right now, and Kodaiji utilizes the lighting technique well to highlight the garden, as well as a beautifully carved gate originally from Hideyoshi's ornate castle in Fushimi. It's a little strange to see a modern sound and light show at a historic temple, but it actually fits quite well if you just relax and enjoy it!
The rest of the temple gardens are lit up as well, and they're all quite remarkable. From the reflecting pond where some of Kyoto's first momiji turns color every year, to the hillside bamboo grove, the illumination event is one of the best in Kyoto.
The nightly illumination event is open until 9:30 every night until December 13. If you are coming along on a tour with us, this illumination event can possibly be added to afternoon bookings of the Higashiyama Tour and Kyoto Highlights Tour!
(and if you're wondering what my favorite temple in Kyoto is, come along on one of our tours and find out!)
See you in Kyoto!