Then and Now: Pictures of Excursions through the Famous Places of the Capital (Kyoto)

Freer and Sackler Galleries

See Kiyomizudera Temple as depicted in this 17th c. scroll and as it stands today overlooking Kyoto.

Throughout East Asia, early gardens developed around royal residences, religious institutions, and academies of learning.

Gardens in East Asia

Although some of these famous old gardens still exist, many are only known through written sources and illustrations.

Preserved in Art

Over the centuries, each region developed its own garden types, shaped by various artistic, cultural, economic, and personal considerations. Certain basic features, however, are common to most East Asian gardens and help define a distinctive regional aesthetic.
As seen here in Pictures of Excursions through the Famous Places of the Capital, the gardens of Japanese Buddhist temples appeal to pilgrims seeking religious enlightenment and redemption. Kiyomizudera, an ancient Buddhist temple founded in 798 and located in the hills East of Kyoto, remains a favorite site for pilgrimages and excursions.

A Distinctive Aesthetic

Here we see the temple complex from a veranda near the right edge of the original artwork, demonstrating the wonderful view of Kyoto in the distance. It is as if we are looking back toward the artist's vantage point.

Mountains recede in the distance against the deep green of the evergreens covering the hills, while the temple's gardens of cherry and maple trees attract crowds of visitors in the spring and autumn. This illustration is a detail from a long handscroll of famous places around Kyoto. Visitors today enjoy many of the same sites as in this eighteenth-century painting, such as the small tower in the middle of this detail.

Places Around Kyoto

The small tower, shrines, and hillside seem little changed in nearly 300 years.

From the expansive veranda overhanging a steep mountainside, visitors enjoy an incomparable view of the city of Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital from 794-1868. This building, the Hondō (Main Hall), was built in 1633. The temple's name, which means "pure water temple," is written on a label to the left of the large roof.

The Hondō

A view past the veranda of the Hondō and out to Kyoto.

Behind the Hondō, is the Okunoin, the inner sanctum of the temple where the most sacred icon of the compassionate bodhisattva Kannon is enshrined. Two men stand on the veranda of the Okunoin, which gives a fine view of the impressive architecture of the Hondō and Kyoto.

The Okunoin

You can still stand in the same spot as the two men and view the Hondō from the veranda of the Okunoin, closed for renovation.

A 9th or 10th c. Japanese statue of Bodhisattva Kannon.

A man wearing a traveler's sedge hat and bearing a sword, which was permitted only to those of warrior (samurai) class or rank, descends the stairs beside a magnificent old cherry tree in full bloom.

Blooming Cherries

A youth carrying a branch makes his way down a side ramp.

The Side Ramp

The view up the stairs.

A group of visitors, including samurai and entertainers, stroll along the road that leads to a shrine built near the base of the sacred Mount Otowa. The mountain's name, Otowayama, is written on the label above. Notice the waterfall to the right.


Visitors queue to collect water from Otowa waterfall. It is held that those who drink this water will have their wishes come true.

Credits: Story

Compiled by Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Smithsonian Institution

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google