Gio-ji Temple

(祇王寺)
#gioji #sagano #mossgarden

The Magical and Sad Moss Garden

Every time I go to Gio-ji Temple, a dazzling green of moss is welcoming me from a distance. To see the beauty of Japanese moss garden, many people go to Saihō-ji (西芳寺) – commonly known as Koke-dera temple (苔寺) – Sanzen-in temple (三千院) in Ohara or other places. I agree that the moss at those places is definitely very nice but trust me that you do not need to spend so much time and money by going there, because concerning the moss, Gio-ji temple can offer you everything you are looking for.


It is not only the moss that makes this place so special but also the story behind it, a web of sadness in which it is shrouded. The effect it has on me is always kind of ambivalent in a way. If you see the place as it is, you can talk only about the beauty of it and pure perfection. Gio-ji temple is without any doubt one of the most scenic beauties of the area. But except the mellow moss that you would really love to lie down on or at least walk on it barefooted for a short while there is always something else, something more.


The story goes that originally this was the place of seclusion of two desperate women who were destroyed by their love experience decided to rather leave the secular world and stay here devoted to the Buddha himself until their death. They were sisters called Gio (祇王) and Gijo(祇女), and when Gio was deserted as a concubine by Taira Kiyomori - the military leader of Japan in the 12th century - her sister Gijo decided to join her in her suffering.


This small hermitage was left unattended for many years with its petty thatched hut left as it was. In 1868, Daikaku-ji temple finally took over the Gio-ji temple. As a sub-temple of Daikaku-ji temple, it belongs to Shingon Buddhist sect. Then in 1895 it was reconstructed to the present form.


In 1930s there was a geisha called Chisho Takaoka (高岡 智照), who also decided to become a nun of this temple after her life did not go the way she would have expected. She died in 1995 at the age of 99. The similarity of her life and the ancient story of her predecessor Gio significantly contributed to the popularity of Gio-ji temple´s legend.


When I see this small garden, so small that you can even overlook it from one end to the other, I cannot help thinking of all those women searching refuge here. But somehow I think I can understand why they chose this place because even now you can still feel really safe here. Protected from the outside world, not so many people come here. In most cases the only company you can get here is the moss itself in so many shapes and variations. There is also always some cat in the garden. One can just wonder why. And the small stream silently bubbling in the middle of all that moss seems to be trying to say the story of all those passed centuries. Maybe we should just stop for a while and listen carefully because the story we may hear is the story of those whose spirit made this beauty become possible.