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Issue 92 - Contemplating Perfection

Whisky Magazine Issue 92
December 2010

 

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Contemplating Perfection

Dave Broom goes in search of his inner whisky self

The first bells woke me at 5am, a smell of incense in the air and the crunch of wooden sandals on the gravel. A bird starts singing, sounding like wet rope being twisted round wood. I get up. Little sense in lying on the mat when there's a world out there – and it's not every day that I spend time in a Zen temple. Find a bench outside the temple and catch up on the previous night's happenings. Black-shirted runners batter over the cobbles, doing their laps, going ever faster in circles. The vice-abbot appears and begins to hose the garden. As the water hits the summer ground a sudden smell of pine. The zazen session isn't until 9am, so I grab a bike and go exploring.

The Myoshin-ji temple complex is, amazingly, truely one of Kyoto's hidden treasures. While tourists head to Ryoan-ji's ju famous garden, fewer make the trek to the north west of the city to this ‘area' of 46 tatchu surrounding the main temple – home to the Myoshin-ji school of Rinzai Zen and the largest such complex in Japan.

The complex was founded in 1337 by Emperor Hanazono who converted his Imperial villa into a temple and its size has fluctuated over the centuries in parallel with the changing fortunes of Buddhism. The temple where I'm staying, Shunko-in, was established in 1590, but the current buildings dates from a reconstruction in the 18th century.

My cycling route is totally random taking me over cobbles past a maze of white-walled temples, the main buildings offset, glimpses of gardens, azale...

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