Hmm…it seems when I originally published this post, the actual final temple & story did not get saved, and were deleted before publishing. I blame my inconsistent pocket wi-fi, as I wrote this post from the famous rooftop Starbucks in Omotosando – which means I had to BYO my wi-fi.
I’ll try again!
OK, I’ve skipped around a bit in describing our Kansai trip, because Wednesday and Thursday we visited some places that are very dear to me – but in order to explain just how important they are, I need to share our engagement story. Which, fair enough, I promised I’d share 5 years ago. So it is about time. (But much harder given the fact that all my photos from then are on my back-up drive in CA.) So I’m stealing these photos from our wedding website (I hope this works! They might be very small or poor quality), and I’m largely cutting and pasting the text from there, too. Sorry for the self-plagiarism.
Here is the story of how Don and I got engaged:
Or, as I like to call it: Best Day in Kyoto. Ever.
We started at Ryoan-ji, The Temple of the Dragon at Peace.
Ryoan-ji is a temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. This 15th century temple is famous throughout the world for its “Zen garden,” the dry landscape rock garden. We were fortunate enough to beat the crowds this morning (because I – Devin – insisted we leave the hotel by the ungodly hour of 6 am, much to Don’s consternation 2016 add: I begged and pleaded and bribed to convince Don, who’d seen the temple many times before, that it would mean a lot to me to see it for the first time without the crowds of elementary school field trips and tourist buses. Put that way, he totally agreed.) We arrived shortly before it opened and only one or two other people were there. We had plenty of time to sit and enjoy the garden by ourselves.
This Zen rock, or “dry garden,” is quite possibly the most famous of all Zen gardens. It was incredible to view it in a relaxed, quiet manner.
We’d planned a full day of visiting temples on this northern/north eastern side of Kyoto, so when we missed our bus out of Ryoanji, due to a simple mistake, Don was surprised I was not upset. But I’d been so amazed with Ryoanji, I felt totally satiated. If we did nothing else all day, this would be incredible enough for me. I was totally happy, and the day could not get any better. I actually said that to the man who was planning on proposing to me at the end of the day! Ha. I was clueless.
Koto-in, The Temple of the Tall Paulownia
So here are some pictures of Koto-in, which in contrast to Ryoan-ji’s dry garden, has a
“wet garden,” or moss garden:
This was a beautiful, quiet temple in an incredible setting. Plus, the image of pauwlonia, after which the temple is named, was everywhere – and it turns out it looks just like the pauwlonias on Hanafuda cards, a Japanese card game with which we were obsessed at the time. So bonus meaningful points, of course.
We also visited Obai-in and Daisen-in, but as they did not allow photos, I have no photos to show.
Enko-Ji, a Rinzai Buddhist Temple founded in 1601
From Daitoku-ji, we went on to some temples in northeastern Kyoto, in Don’s old neighborhood from the years he lived in Kyoto, so they had some sentimental meaning for him, too.
This was another beautiful temple, and in my 5-years-later memory I think I dragged Don to it – he had plans for another place but we passed this one and I thought, what difference does it make? This temple looks great. (Again, not knowing that Don was on a tightly scheduled plan).
Shisendo: The Hall of the Poetry Immortals
We visited one last temple before closing time.
Shisendo was established in the mid-17th century by Jozan Ishikawa, a former samurai warrior who became a landscape architect and scholar of Chinese classics. Although Shisendo is currently owned by a Soto Zen group, Shisendo began as a mountain hermitage celebrating the immortal poets of Chinese classics.
This makes it kind of the perfect place for Don and me: a place with all the lovely beauty and serenity of Kyoto’s classic Zen temples, but whose origins were not actually religious – perfect for atheist Don. But now it is an official Buddhist temple, which speaks to the religious studies scholar in me. And it was created by a warrior-turned-landscape architect, so even though landscape architecture is an entirely different field from Don’s architecture background, I’m going to highlight that bit of history that as a positive connection for him anyway. And, given my love of writing and my poetry background and things like that, a place devoted to immortal poets also resonates deeply with me. There probably couldn’t be a more perfect temple in Japan for us as a couple.
(Since you already know from the title of this post that an engagement is imminent, and you’ve gotten this far into the post, you can probably guess it’s going to happen here, so I feel like the above is not really a spoiler.)
The approach to this mountain-side temple was stunning:
Like many Zen temples we saw, this has both “dry” and “wet” gardens, but Shisendo’s dry gardens are made of swept and shaped sand, rather than rocks.
The viewing platform and main garden above.
Since the temple is nestled into the mountainside, there are many other levels of gardens, including a pond area, bamboo grove, and rose-&-other-flowers garden below, and wild hiking trails rambling up the mountain alongside a creek above.
We stayed until closing time and were eventually the last visitors in the temple.
Seconds after I took this photo, Don asked me to marry him.
I said yes.
(Although Don likes me to point out that first I said, “Are you really asking?”)
One of the Buddhist nuns who works at the temple took our photo.
Then we headed to the shrine next door, which specializes in marriage, among other things, and picked up an ema with a marriage blessing – to start our engagement. We were off to a good start, and five years later, I’d say we’re still on it!