When the snow transports us to another dimension in Tokyo

When someone asks me: what is the best time to visit Japan? I’m very reluctant to give a clear answer since I’ve come to realize that Japan is beautiful in different ways depending on the weather and the season. Spring tints the landscape with sakura colors. During Summer, the rainy tsuyu gives everything a mysterious atmosphere. Un Autumn, it is the kouyou what makes Japan magic. But one of the most spectacular transformation happens in Winter when the snow covers more than half of Japan’s territory.

The Japanese snow was the main inspiration when Kawabata wrote his first novel Snow Country 雪国 Yukiguni. Later, he became the first Japanese write to receive the Nobel Prize. Not only Kawabata, the change that Japanese seasons cause in the landscape of cities and the countryside, has inspired artists since centuries ago. For example, haiku poems almost always have a reference to the time of the year or weather conditions.

Snow adds chaos to the tokyoites routine, who are used to everything working perfectly. When snow falls in Tokyo train become crazy and people’s behaviour changes (not necessarily in a good way 🙂 ). When the streets are covered by snow, the city is not only transformed in a superficial, I feel that I’m transported to a different Tokyo located in a parallel dimension.

There is a street I’ve known since more than 10 years ago. Today I’m walking through it and it feels like a new place. Why? I don’t know. It might be the tree that I never notice and now with the weight of the snow is tilting towards the street. It could also be the cables with their black contrasting with the white snow.

In a crossing near Harajuku there is a vending machine that I never noticed, but now the light from it reflects in a mysterious way on the night snow carpet below it. When I keep walking farther away from the station I see snowmen, many of them are trying to imitate the shape of Ghibli’s Totoro.

In the morning I decide to go to Meiji Jingu. When I enter this shrine I feel like I have totally abandoned the city, maybe I’m inside Kawabata’s Yukiguni 雪国.

The bridge that crosses over the Moon – Togetsu bridge

The bridge of Togetsu (In Japanese written with the characters 渡 月 橋: crossing, moon, bridge) is one of the most emblematic of Kyoto. With its 155 meters long it was first built in the 9th century to cross the Katsura River towards the mountain of Arashiyama . Although it has been rebuilt and restored several times, the current version remains in the same place as the original.

Crossing the bridge and strolling along the river bank is a pleasure enjoyed even by the emperors of ancient Japan. It was Emperor Kameyama in the 12th century who named the bridge. He was sailing with his boat at night and enraptured by the beauty of the moment he declared: “It seems that the bridge is crossing the moon.”

A local legend says: boys and girls have to cross the bridge without looking back at any time. If they ignore this rule it will bring them bad luck of not looking back. I wonder if Ghibli was inspired by this bridge to for Spirited Away but instead of not looking back you have to hold your breath.

The Tōfukuji zen temple

The Tōfukuji (東 福寺, Tōfukuji) is a zen temple in southeastern Kyoto. Its pavilions are surrounded by a huge green area, it is beautiful all over the year but the best time to see this temple is a the time of the kouyou (End of november) . Tōfukuji is one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto.

The Sanmon style door of the Tōfukuji is 22 meters high and is the oldest Japanese zen gate (since 1425 without having been rebuilt). The sanmon style doors (三門) are not in all Zen temples, only in the larger ones. The San 三 (Three) before the 門 (Gate) indicates that it is composed of three entrances. Each of the entries also has a name, the one on the left is the kūmon (空門 vacuum door), the middle one is the musōmon (無相門 the door without form) and the one on the right is the muganmon (無願門 DO NOT ask for wishes).


This is the sanmon gate at Tōfukuji which is declared as a National Treasure

The set of these three doors: the one of the void, the formless one and the one of not requesting desires; symbolize the three places by which purification must be achieved before enlightenment. Passing through them helps to free you from: greed, hatred and ignorance. That’s why they are also called sangedatsumon (三解脱門 the door of the three releases).

Apart from the sanmon gate, the most beautiful of the Tōfukuji are the gardens. There are several, each with a style, some with large rocks and moss that adorns them, others full of vegetation and several dry with gravel and stones. All of them were designed by Mirei Shigemori . One of the most beautiful gardens inside Tōfukuji is the Kaizandō, which is hidden across the bridge Tsutenkyo. A bridge with a wooden roof that is 100 meters long and crosses a stream that will lead to the kamogawa.


This is the Tsutenkyo bridge, the name of this bridge translated is: “The Bridge to cross the sky”


Views from the bridge

Kaizandō is a dry garden similar to the Ryoanji but it is not symmetrical, an area of the gravel rectangle is occupied by hedges and rocks. What I like the most compared to the Ryoanji is that behind the gravel you don’t see a simple wall, there is a big Japanese style garden with pines covering the landscape. Another of the differences is the way they drag it, in the Kaizandō they do it in a way that squares of several different shades are drawn on its surface.

Tofukuji location on google maps.

From Kyoto Station, with the JR Nara line, it takes two minutes to reach Tofukuji Station.