As a garden, Chishaku-in has many of the attributes of Japanese landscape design that should attract a good number of visitors. The fact that the temple in Kyoto’s southeastern Higashikawara-cho district is rarely crowded, and that scant attention is paid to it in guidebooks, is therefore somewhat surprising.
The site now occupied by Chishaku-in was once home to Shoun-ji, a temple the famed warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi built for his son, Sutemaru, who died in 1591 at the age of 3.
There is a touch of irony in the fact that another generalissimo, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) — the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) — placed Shoun-ji in the hands of the priests of Chishaku-in, a temple in Kii Province (present-day Wakayama Prefecture) that was torched to the ground by Hideyoshi’s forces in 1585. Being the headquarters of the Chizan school of Shingon Buddhism, Shoun-ji carries a certain authority.
Some garden scholars have credited the original design of Chishaku-in to the revered personage of Sen-no-Rikyu (1522-91), but this claim is unsupported. Herbert Plutschow’s excellent book on the tea master, “Rediscovering Rikyu,” for example, makes no mention of any time he spent working on the garden. We do know, though, that Rikyu much admired the arrangement and doubtless enjoyed moments of quiet reflection in this pond-viewing garden, which was rebuilt in 1674 under the supervision of the priest Sosei.
With Kyoto fortunate to have been exempted from Allied bombing raids in World War II, many of the area’s gardens have survived. However, yet another irony attending Chishaku-in is the fact that both the temple buildings and garden were ravaged by fire in 1947 — two years after the war. Nonetheless, its outline and stone arrangements — the essential schemata for most Japanese landscapes — appear to have survived intact.
Read more via Chishaku-in: a Kyoto garden of deep repose | The Japan Times.