The sweeping rooflines of the keep of Kishiwada Castle rise into the sky. Here is a close encounter with Japan’s architectural heritage not to be found on a Kyoto or Nara itinerary. Although the original five-story keep was struck by lightning and burned in 1827, the three-story restoration built in 1954 does ample justice to its predecessor. The grounds were later enhanced with the boldly modern Hachijin Garden, laid out by famous garden designer Shigemori Mirei (1896–1975). Like his “checkerboard garden” at Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto, it is an embodiment of his distinctive aesthetic.
Difficult as it is to define what is “beauty” in Japan, travelers are eager to see the landscapes and appreciate the arts that are distinctively Japanese. Senshu attractions embody these qualities as much as any in Kyoto and Nara.
At Horin Garden on the grounds of Sennan’s Rinshoji Temple, Shigemori created forms and lines with azalea hedges and rocks. In this depiction of the Jodo paradise, the rocks at the center represent an image of the Buddha.
The Yamaguchi Residence, in the city of Sakai, is a well-preserved example of residential architecture of the early seventeenth-century. Massive beams soar over its large earthen-floored work area.
The Sugie Noh Stage, originally built in 1917 on the grounds of Kishiwada Castle, is the oldest extant noh stage in Osaka Prefecture. It follows the style of the Northern Noh Stage (National Treasure) at Nishihonganji Temple in Kyoto, in which an expanse of white pebbles separates the stage and the audience seating. If you choose a day when performances are being held you can experience the extraordinary atmosphere of the noh theater.
Not far from Kishiwada Castle is a stretch of the Kishu Kaido road, an ancient highway with more opportunities to study architectural styles. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when this was a castle town, the road was lined with prosperous merchant houses, and the feel of the old townscape lives on today.
Face to Face with Gold-leaf Sliding Panel Paintings
It is one thing to see sliding panel paintings (fusuma-e) behind glass in a museum and quite another to stand before them in the dim interior of a traditional-style temple. Light reflects off white pebbles in the garden and filters through the shoji panels on the outside of the room. The gold-leaf background issues a subtle glow, bringing the paintings bewitchingly to life. The artist clearly created these works precisely to be seen in the dim light of shoji-enclosed interiors. What you see here you will not see in a museum.
Sakai’s Daianji Temple treasures splendid fusuma-e sliding panel paintings by the Kano school of painters that dominated Japan’s art world during the Edo period (1603–1868). Seeing all the panels―“Cranes,” “Monkeys in Crepe Myrtle Tree,” and “Cypress”―in situ in the temple is discovering them where they were meant to be seen. The set of panel paintings of another room depicting “Wisteria” traveled to the United States for a show at the Boston Museum of Art. Daianji is not routinely open to visitors, but will show the screens by advance reservation.
Another wonder is the dragon painting on the ceiling of the Buddha hall at Nanshuji Temple, by Kano Nobumasa (1607–1658). Zen temples often have paintings of dragons because they are deities that protect Buddhism, and this one is no exception. The eyes appear to be looking at you no matter where you stand in the hall, and it is hard to take your eyes off the dragon too, as it glares down in the dim light.
Art and design virtuosity can be seen even within a small vessel. Tastefully created pictures unfold in the dishes of a full-course served in the kaiseki banquet style of Japanese cuisine. The appetizers deliver not only the flavors of the season but attractive dishes as well, with even the contents of a soup bowl artfully composed. A fine sense of beauty is served along with gracious hospitality. You can indulge such pleasures when dining at the Fudoguchikan inn or the Minamitei Inn at Inunakiyama Onsen.
For Senshu tourist information inquiries, please contact the Senshu Japan Concierge Team.