Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Chamberlain Japanese Collection and Ginkaku-ji

When I went to Japan in early November and stayed in Kyoto for a few days, I visited a few temples including Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion). It is designated as a national treasure of Japan, and is very popular among both Japanese and foreign tourists.

Ginkaku-ji with 'Kogetsudai' (Moon viewing platform) in the centre © Fusa McLynn
One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Ginkaku-ji was, in fact, the Chamberlain collection. The collection includes numerous maps and plans of holy places as well as amulets from Japan. One of the maps shows Ginkaku-ji with its garden including 'Kogetsudai' (Moon viewing platform) clearly marked. My English friend once called it a Christmas pudding. You can see why if you look at the photo above.

Map of Ginkaku-ji in the Pitt Rivers Museum Chamberlain collection PRM 1908.82.465 © Pitt Rivers Museum
At the top margin of the map, there is a poem with the name of the poet. The name reads as 'Jishoin dono Yoshimasa ko'. This is the 8th Muromachi shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 - 1490), who was the founder of Ginkaku-ji.

The place did not originally start as a temple but was actually designed as an elegant villa for Yoshimasa. He was a very cultured man but tragically weak. He failed to take strong political leadership and so became responsible for the outbreak of a civil war, which lasted 10 years and ruined Kyoto completely. Having had enough with politics, he retired, abandoned his official residence, and made his son the next shogun, allowing his wife Hino Tomiko to become extremely powerful. (She is one of very few women who came to power in Japanese history). Then he started to build this villa in 1482. Rather sadly he never saw its completion. Although he was a disastrous ruler, he played an important role to develop Japanese traditional arts such as flower arrangement and tea ceremony. He was also talented in garden designing. After his death, the place became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect. Thus it is now called Ginkaku-ji (ji means temple in Japanese). But it is a sort of nickname and the formal name is 'Jisho-ji', which takes after Yoshimasa's posthumous name.

When I opened the information leaflet given at the temple, the first thing I saw was a familiar map of the place! It is not totally identical to the one at the Pitt Rivers but it is very similar.

The cover and map page of the information leaflet © Fusa McLynn
Thinking about the troubled and miserable shogun who left such a beautiful legacy, and B.H. Chamberlain who was so well versed in Japanese art and literature, I enjoyed walking in the garden under the warm autumn sun.

The garden at Ginkaku-ji © Fusa McLynn
Fusa McLynn
Collections Volunteer

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