After two days of fighting crowds in the snow at admittedly popular attractions in Kyoto, I knew I wanted to find something a little more off the beaten track but still atmospheric to catch what would probably be Kyoto’s last day of snow. With a little help from Google I kept coming across a beautiful pond and bridge surrounded by trees. It was beautiful but not familiar. I soon came to realise that those images I kept coming across were from Daigo-ji temple, one of the 17 World Heritage sites in Kyoto, and home to the oldest building in the city (a 5-story pagoda). It’s also in my backyard (almost) – only two subway stops away. I’d been there before, during cherry blossom season, but I went on a bad day and never really went back, even though I knew there was a lot to explore there as the grounds are quite extensive.
So I got my cameras ready to go and I was up early so I could get there when it opened at 9 a.m. What a difference from Kinkakuji! There was nobody there. I mean, there was a guy and a couple, and me. And the young monks, sweeping a path through the snow with their twig brooms. My goal that morning was to head for Bentendo Hall (and pond), but I kept getting distracted by everything around me. The dry, powdery snow sparkling in the morning sunlight. The shafts of light illuminating falling snowflakes as they drifted down through the trees. Hoof and footprints in the snow of deer, rabbits, and other wild animals who passed through the temple grounds. And the only sounds were of the swish, swish, swish of the twig brooms as the monks went about their business. It was wonderful.
I soon came upon Bentendo Hall and was eager to photograph it in all its snowy splendour. I didn’t have much time, however, as the snow was melting in the morning sun and began falling down in big clumps. Nothing was safe. My camera and I both suffered the ministrations of the cold, wet snow, but another visitor got it really bad when a large clump fell down his neck and back and he nearly fell over into the pond in shock. Luckily we were all able to laugh it off, and I began to make my way back down to the entrance, this time taking more time to explore the buildings and grounds that I had missed on my way up. But the sun is a hard taskmaster, and it wasn’t long before the fine, powdery snow began turning into slush, and the magical morning light turned harsher as the sun rose, lending a gloomy feel to the forests.
I was really pleased with my visit to Daigo-ji, and it just amazes me how being a little off the beaten track makes all the world of difference to how popular a place can be. I’m glad that my little corner of Kyoto doesn’t even show up on most city maps, as it keeps things around here more local, and gives me plenty of opportunities to explore.