Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A flower of the Chinese hometown of Ganjin at Toshodai-ji

Have you ever seen this plant?  The pristine white, elegant flowers look like race-cap hydrangea but leaves and plant form are different.  It is 瓊花 Keika, or Qiong-hua.

The other day, I went to see Keika flowers to Toshodai-ji in Nara City.  At the blooming time every year, the garden with Keika is open to the public. It was from April 24 to May 6 this year.
Keika came from the hometown of 鑑真 Ganjin, 揚州 Yangzhou in China, who is the founder of 唐招提寺 Toshodai-ji.  Keika was favoured by Emperor Yang of Sui and it got never allowed to be taken out of China.  In 1963 in commemoration of 1200 years of Ganjin's death, one seedling was presented by Chinese Buddhist Organization. It was the first landing of Keika in Japan.  By dividing its roots, it was presented to the Imperial Palace and Ganjin Memorial in Saga Prefecture where Ganjin first landed.

At Toshodai-ji, Keika is a symbol of transformation from late spring to early summer.
The white flowers are refreshing to see against the blue sky.

The fragrance is exquisitely refined.  Many butterflies flit around the flowers.

Beside the Keika, early-blooming hydrangeas were in bloom.

 Leaving the garden where Keika flowers bloom ......

I went to Ganjin's Grave located at the end of a woody path.

I thought of Ganjin who kept unbreakable determination and commitment throughout his life. He was invited by Emperor Shomu to teach the Chinese Buddhist precepts in Japan and was blind when he finally reached Japan in 754 after harsh, unsuccessful voyages to cross the ocean. He was then 65-year-old and established Toshodai-ji in 759.
Image via Wikipedia
The surrounding nature gives the area an air of serenity.

 Inside the bamboo hedge the earthen wall has collapsed with time.

 New life grows on it.

Some of charms of Toshodai-ji varies from season to season.



But unchangeable charms of Toshodai-ji, which I like most about, is dark brown timbered buildings mostly from the 8th century.
The concise beauty of 金堂 Kondo, Main Hall (national treasure), is a representative of the Tempyo arts (729-749). The magnificent row of eight pillars is reminiscent of the Parthenon of Greece.
Inside Kon-do is a solemn world of Buddha.  Large nine Buddhist Statues stand with three-meter-high Virocana Buddha at their center.  All are national treasures.  Regardless of your religion, you would be struck and humbled in awe.  Because of No Photography rule to the objects of worship, have a look here.
Kon-do, Main Hall

 鼓楼, literally Drum Tower (1240), national treasure

講堂, Lecture Hall (late 8th century), national treasure
Other unchangeable charms are roof tiles,


  ... aged earthen walls,

 ... and lovely, small paths which run in the precinct.

For a few days around June 6, the anniversary of Ganjin's death, 御影堂 Mie-do, where a famous wooden statue of Ganjin is stored, is open to the public to display the statue. In the room surrounded by Hiagashiyama Kaii's paintings on Japanese sliding doors, "濤声 Tosei", you can recall Ganjin in contemplation.  I felt like that I heard the sound of the waves some years ago when I was sitting in the room.  A replica of the statue is on permanent display at 開山堂 Kaizan-do.

Kon-do seen from Suzaku South Gate

When Keika flowers are over, the precinct changes into summer attire with irises, lotus flowers, and deepening early summer greenery.



  1. Hello Yoko:

    The flowers of Keika are truly remarkable. What a wonderful sight these trees must be at this time of the year. And no, we have never heard of it before now.

    As always you treat us to such beautiful images and, in addition, as here, include snippets of history which do make for fascinating reading. A lovely post. Thank you.

  2. こんばんわ~~。唐招提寺はこんなに広いお庭のあるお寺だったのですね。唐招提寺って実は講堂のイメージしかありませんでした。鑑真のお墓に続く土塀はなんとも雰囲気あります。アジサイに似たお花は瓊花なのですね。ようやく連休がおわりホッとひと息ついているところです。それでは又!!

  3. The keika is very beautiful, is it of the viburnum genus? The leaves seem to be similar.
    Your posts are always wonderful to see.

    1. Thank you for your idea about Keia. I checked the viburnum genus and found the flowers look like but learned the shrub were rather short while Keika grows into high tree. Unfortunately there is little information about Keika, or Qiong-hua, so I’m not sure whether it is so or not.

  4. Greetings, my friend. Looking at these photos today, I am overwhelmed by a sense of serenity...could the photos have calmed my being? It seems that way. What a gorgeous place. I think I shall have to spend some time studying Buddhism. Your photography is as exquisite as ever - so fragile in its beauty but bounded by the strength of your subjects.

    Your comments about your mother are sad. It is so difficult to see a beloved parent lose some of the vitality that has marked his or her life. But, be proud, for you are fulfilling grandly your daughter's obligation to love and care for her needs such as they are. And that fact should always fill you with peace and joy!

    I am back blogging, but it may be intermittent for a time. I've found a number of things that need doing! :)

    Best wishes to you and your family as spring becomes summer and beyond!

  5. Dear Yoko - how I would love to join you and wander around these historic and beautiful grounds. The flowers of the Keika tree are so pure and simple and shown off to perfection against the blue skies.
    All of the architecture details are a joy to see, and I too really appreciated your lovely photographs showing it all.

  6. ケイカ、初めて見ました. 白いあじさいかなと、思いました. 青い空によく映えて白がとてもきれいに見えます.何回か唐招提寺はいき、襖絵等も見ましたが、こんなに大きいお寺だったとは.とくに、9枚目の写真は木の高さと緑深さがよく表現されていて、素敵だとおもいます.では、おやすみなさい.

  7. Your post was full of beauty and tranquility, Stardust. and I was really interested to learn about Ganjin. I'm not sure if we have Keika in Vancouver. My favourite photo of all? That extraordinary butterfly :)

  8. The purity of the white flower seems a fitting image for contemplating such a sincere man. I was interested to learn that Ganjin had a deep interest in healing and even created a hospital in a temple in China. He truly is an example of determination … someone who felt strongly about his religious philosophy and was inspired to share it with Japan where his beliefs flourished like that one seedling!

  9. Such a great place, thanks for sharing its history with your nice pictures!

  10. Så vacker plats at vara på, ser så fridfullt och skönt ut Blommorna är ju så bedårande. Jag njuter av din beskrivningar och bilder.
    Önskar dig en fin vecka
    Kram Meta

  11. Awesome pictures !
    Such natural beauty, wow !
    Thanks a ton for sharing these :)

  12. What beautiful pictures of flowers. I love all your picures !

  13. Beautiful photographs as always. You transmit an air of serenity through the balance and quietness of your pictures. Inspiring.

  14. Place full of beauty and calmness

  15. Hi. I have been following your blog for a couple of weeks now & I am so happy I stumbled upon it. I know a fair bit about Kyoto & lived there for many years, but despite visiting Nara many times there is so much I don't know about the city & prefecture. Your photos are stunning & the information very valuable. Thank you for sharing.

  16. いつ訪れても精神が澄まされるようなお庭と御堂です。瓊花が初夏の日差しに映えて美しいですね。御影堂への小道も好きです。よく雰囲気が伝わってきます。

  17. こんばんは。素敵な花ですね。唐招提寺には行ったことは有りません。 瓊花は初めて見ました。 金堂も初めてみました。「天平の甍」とはこの事ですか。 素晴らしいです。

  18. It's always a pleasure to visit your blog !!! I always learn something and see amazing pictures !
    Have a nice day !

  19. I am learning so much about Japanese history and culture. These buildings date from so long ago. Where I live we consider buildings from the 1700s to be old!

  20. Thank you, Yoko, for a memorable excursion! Spring in my place has finally caught up with yours and we're also enjoying lilacs, bird cherry trees, acacia blossoms.

  21. Dear Yoko, I always love to stroll with you! Those Keika blooms are so pure and dainty. There is something about white blooms that calls to me. Enjoy your splendid spring in Nara.

  22. Wonderful post again, like every time you present one. This Keika tree is absolutely beautiful. I tried to find more information about it on the Internet, and there was scarcely something. But I found a travelers account, referring to a trip to China to the town of Yangzhou, province of Jiangsu:
    "And the city's famous flower, the qiong hua, blooms with special beauty during April. It is a symbol of the city and this eight-petal flower is rarely seen outside the region. Mid-April is a magic time in this city of 5 million people.The white-flower trees blossom and their scent mixes in the air, offering a sense of relaxation."
    It is very interesting that this gorgeous tree is so protected by the Chinese from the outside world. This gift of a single plant to Japan was a great gesture and surely will be appreciated and enjoyed by many people. What a fantastic and quiet garden this is, your walk through it must have cleansed and refreshed your soul and heart! :-)

  23. 花も色づき寺社の散歩も気持ちよい季節になりましたね。東京周辺にも寺社はいろいろありますが、関西のほうが歴史が長いものが多く勉強になります。


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