My father always has a reason to make an excursion. Therefore, he would never travel to Kyoto saying, “I just feel like going to Kyoto.” The reason why he went to Kyoto at that time was to take photographs.
It was December 2012. I started living in Kyoto and my parents came to see how I was doing. And we went sightseeing in Kyoto. It was the first time in years to visit Ryoan-ji Temple with my father. When we were leaving the temple, the photograph of stone garden, Kare-sansui (dry landscape) that was displayed over our head caught our eyes. Looking at the photograph, my mother said half-jokingly and casually to my father, “Why don’t you ask the temple to let you take photograph of the garden, under the condition that you donate the piece to them?” My father seemed to find the idea not bad at all. To me, it was a distant idea, because Ryoan-ji Temple is one of the high-class temples.
However, my father was different. Once he thinks of doing something, he takes action immediately. As soon as he returned to Niigata from Kyoto, he wrote letters to the temples in Kyoto that are registered as a World Heritage site. He described carefully about his career as a professional photographer and the reason why he is particular about using large format film, and asked for a permission to take photographs under the condition of donation. A few days later, he received responses one after another, and to my surprise, most of them consented willingly. Among them was Ryoan-ji Temple.
The photo shooting already started from the next year, January 2013. “Takashi Amano takes photographs of the four seasons in Kyoto”. The first series was winter. My father happily came to Kyoto with the shooting crew. Staying at a cheap hotel over the long term, he went out for photo shooting all day long, before dawn to nightfall. My father sometimes invited me to the dinner with the crew after the shooting. Although he had been photographing whole day without break, he didn’t show any sigh of fatigue and enjoyed the conversations at table. Ryoan-ji Temple, Tenryu-ji Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Kouzan-ji Temple, Ninna-ji Temple, Nishi Hongan-ji Temple, and To-ji Temple. It seemed that my father was purely delighted to take photographs of world-class Japanese heritages with the large format films, and couldn’t help but be simply amused by it.
My father’s field as a photographer is not only in nature. Since he was young he liked to see Japanese Garden so much that he taught himself and started looking at the gardens from his unique perspective. Even to his eyes, the stone garden of Ryoan-ji Temple was exceptional. When he was a high school student, he visited Kyoto on the school trip, and saw the stone garden of Ryoan-ji Temple for the first time. He was too young to feel something in such highly abstract garden. Since then, the stone garden of Ryoan-ji Temple was registered in him as “the garden I cannot like.” However, it did mysteriously leave something beyond words in his heart. The next time he visited Ryoan-ji Temple was after he grew up. And again he couldn’t help but concluding “it must be one of the poor works.” The stone garden of Ryoan-ji Temple is known for the many mysteries. In the garden, different kinds of stones are used, however, in terms of the common sense of garden making, it may be said that it is a wrong way. The layout of the stones looked random without any sense of unity, which he didn’t like. However, when he visited Ryoan-ji Temple again a few years after, he was attracted by the stone garden as if he met something completely new. It sank inside him naturally.
Photographing Ryoan-ji Temple was done early in the morning before the opening hours. Prior to the dawn, gentle morning sunlight is slowly covering the silent stone garden. Receiving the morning sun, the stones started showing the face as if they were awake from sleep. There was nobody in the garden. My father sat there alone. He felt his heart was purified; it was like something fluff is cutting out from him. “I feel like meditating,” he thought after so long. Something existed deep inside him connected to the garden. But, instead of meditation, he pointed the camera. When he encounters something that he is seeking for or wanting to connect is the very moment to photograph. It is the best photographic subject for him. When he points his camera, he can observe it in a calmer way. Garden is not nature. It is a landscape created based on human’s intention. If it is a masterpiece, naturally he gains interest also to the landscapers who created it. Winter, spring and then autumn– as the season rotated, he visited Kyoto and photographed Ryoan-ji Temple. The more he released the shutter, the more he realized how elaborately the stone garden was designed. The stones, which differ in type and size, are arranged in a fine balance. While utilizing the surroundings creates a masterpiece of garden, the wall that divides the garden from outside is also a key element of beauty. The wall of Ryoan-ji Temple plays the roll perfectly.
Garden cannot exist without architectural structures. They are designed to show gardens, and gardens are nurtured in harmony with them. My father wanted to take a photograph of the beauty of space that both of them are coexisting and complementing each other. Receiving the special permission to take photographs, my father entered Hojo, Abbot’s quarters, which is not open to public. Inside was dim. Only the white sands spread over the garden that was reflecting the sunshine brought the light to Hojo. He came to aware the reason why they tried to pave the garden with white sand as much as possible, but without planting anything – it was for taking in light. Even though it was imaginary, he felt as if he could realize the landscape gardener’s intension. And, there was another thing he was thrilled to discover. When he was photographing the garden from inside of Hojo, he noticed that there is the drawing of ridgeline tinted on the inner side of the Fusuma, sliding door, facing to the garden. Using the Fusuma being opened to both sides to resemble a frame, he looked at the stone garden through it. Then he saw that scene— the islands in Wakasa bay being overlooked from the top of the mountain. At least it looked like that to him. The mountains depicted on Fusuma, the white sands represent ocean, and the stones are islands. Only inside of Hojo, the scene emerges.
The photographs my father took during his frequent visit to Kyoto for a year. One of them is now displayed at the group entrance of Ryoan-ji Temple. It is a photograph of the stone garden in spring with the cherry blossom is in full bloom.
I don’t need a reason to make an excursion. My father’s photographs attract me. Now spring comes, I feel like going to Kyoto.
text & illustration by Sayuri Amano
English translation by Megumu Ogata