I knew about the Shogunzuka (mound of the general) from a hike along the Kyoto Trail and when I visited the nearby night skyline viewing spot over Kyoto, but it wasn’t until I heard about the “Glass Teahouse” that I finally decided to stop in and have a look.
Upon further reading, I discovered Shogunzuka isn’t just any ordinary mound of dirt. The mound and area served as a camp in 1338 for rebel forces against Takauji Ashikaga and anti-aircraft gun placements during WWII. Notable generals, statesmen and other high profile figures also visited over the centuries, planting commemorative trees. Emperor Kanmu (737-806) is among these figures and the origin of Shogunzuka seems to begin with him.
In the past, especially during Emperor Kanmu’s reign, Japan’s capital shifted frequently. In Nara (710-784), natural calamities and wars were rampant. These and the increasing power of Buddhist sects are usually regarded as the main reasons for relocating the capital. He first relocated Japan’s political capital from Nara to Nagaoka (short-distance from present day Kyoto city). This turned out to be futile since accidents continued to happen. Once again, he searched for another capital-worthy area.
In need of guidance, his trusted adviser Wake no Kiyomaro introduced him to a place overlooking a basin, surrounded by mountains to the east, north and west-present day eastern mountains of Kyoto. From this vantage point, he saw an area meeting the essential guiding principles of geomancy-the art of placing or arranging buildings in an area with certain geographic features used by the Chinese in building their capital of Chang’an (618-907).
The spot Wake no Kiyomaro showed Emperor Kanmu was the mound now referred to as Shogunzuka. It was from here Emperor Kanmu looked upon the vast basin, soon to become Heian-kyo or present day Kyoto. Now, the story of how the mound became known as Shogunzuka is interesting.
To ensure the peace and safety of the latest capital, Emperor Kanmu commissioned a 2.5 metre high clay statue of a general, outfitted in armor-iron bow and arrow with swords. The clay statue was then buried in the mound, intended to act as guardian of the capital. Hence, Shogunzuka (mound of the general) was born, located in the grounds of Shoren-in Temple, next to Seiryu-den veranda. Interestingly enough, accounts from Genpei Josuki and Taiheiki speak of a legend where the mound actually rumbles when Japan is in danger. I wonder if it rumbled in March, 2011 when the earthquake and tsunami struck Fukushima?
Even today, the mound and its close-by observation deck and Seiryu-den veranada provide incredible views of Kyoto city. The 220 m high veranda of Seiryu-den, boasts a breathtaking view over Kyoto city. It turns out great minds think alike. The same vantage point Emperor Kanmu looked out from also caught the attention of a well-known contemporary Japanese designer.
Artist and designer, Takujin Yoshioka was apparently captivated by the unique power and nature surrounding Shogunzuka. He has won numerous international design awards. Borrowing on some of his previous works, Yoshioka designed a Glass Teahouse, now on display on the veranda of Seiryu-den (Shoren-in Temple). From last spring, the Glass Teahouse (Kou-an) has been on display and will continue until April 8, 2016.
So why place a glass teahouse here?
The Glass Teahouse seems to be inspired by a project Yoshioka exhibited at Glasstress 2011 (54th Venice Art Biennale-Italy). Venice also happens to be the sister city to Kyoto. Another defining element in Yoshioka’s work is how his projects integrate with nature. Apparently when he visited this place, he felt a mysterious energy or power resonating here and decided this was the place to exhibit Kou-an.
Sense Perceptions and Architecture
Looking upon Kou-an, I somehow felt it easy to forget it was actually made from glass. It somehow effortlessly blended into the sky, trees and mountains. As I found out later, this was not by accident and very much by design.
Traditionally, the way of tea (tea ceremony) has been practiced at teahouses made of earthen walls, wooden beams, paper doors and tatami mats. Sitting in a teahouse and practicing the way of tea, one can’t help but feel a deepening of their sense perceptions and heightened sense of one’s natural surroundings. Yoshioka studied the traditional elements underlying Japanese tea and teahouse design.
The use of glass is a modern take on the traditional Japanese teahouse. Yoshioka said he wanted to retain the essence of Japanese perception, aesthetics and tradition-common in traditional teahouses while incorporating light with the use of glass. Depending on the time of day, or rather the amount of light, the spectrum of colours created by the interplay between sun and glass is beautiful.
Interestingly, Yoshioka seems to be fascinated by the Japanese “distinctive spatial perception” and Japanese “sensual appreciation of nature’s intrinsics and beauties,” from which we can feel and experience the energy and aura, present in nature around us. This is a pretty deep aspect of Japanese culture, but one I also believe cuts to the very core of Japanese culture, imbued in a variety of traditional arts-tea, ikebana and pottery…
If you’re in Kyoto, why don’t you check out the exquisite Kou-an or glass teahouse and benches? It’s on until April 8, 2016. It’s a great chance to look out on Kyoto from the Seiryu-den veranda and connect with the same spirit Emperor Kanmu, Designer Yoshioka and many others have felt from past to present.
Taxi is the best way and actually not expensive (one-way about 750-1,000 yen). I suggest getting a taxi from the intersection of Ohigashioji Street/Gojo Street, right in front of Otani Honbyo Temple. Usually, taxis are lined up there. Copy this address for the temple [〒605-0846 京都府東山区 五条橋東6丁目514] and paste into Google maps.