Published: 08:13 BST, 27 March 2018 | Updated: 13:13 BST, 27 March 2018
With its rugged rocks encircled by ripples of raked white gravel, the walled dry garden of Ryoan-ji is a haven of quiet serenity.
This small, enclosed space has no grass or leafy plants, only moss, sand and stones. Its simplicity leaves much to the imagination – and this is its strength.
No wonder Edward’s eyes are wide. My son is only six and at his age there’s not much difference between a garden and a sandpit: both are realms for play. ‘Playtime?’ he says hopefully, before I tug him back on to the wooden viewing platform.
Blooming marvellous: Cherry blossom at the Kiyomizu-dera temple, a World Heritage Site located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto
We’re in Kyoto in central Japan, a 150-minute journey from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. Monty Don’s TV series Around The World In 80 Gardens is the inspiration for our trip.
There’s an aura of enchantment once you reach the scattered but well- preserved historic temples with their cobbled paths and gardens.
It’s akin to the delight of stepping into a toyshop – less Toys R Us, more Walt Disney’s Pinocchio with a Japanese twist. The magic is everywhere and, perhaps, this is why the temple gardens are spellbinding.
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Kinkaku-ji/Rokuon-ji features a dazzling golden three-storey pavilion set around a pond with a picturesque scattering of rocks and bridges amid pine and maple trees. Ginkakuji-Jisho-ji has a sand garden, piled to symbolise Mount Fuji.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine stars countless vermilion Torii gates (entrances to shrines) and a towering bamboo forest. The Kokedera temple sits on a rug seemingly woven with soft mosses. Zen gardens celebrate nature.
Two young geishas seen wearing traditional costume in the streets of Kyoto
The Japanese have a heightened sensitivity to beauty. The challenge is to stop and be present for every little moment, no matter how trivial.
Edward does this effortlessly; he finds delight in every moment, in every detail. Could this be the key to the Zen spirit of mindful contentment?
Cherry trees are festooned with sakura: cerise and pale pink blossoms marking the arrival of spring. The Japanese revere sakura. Hamami, cherry blossom viewing, is a national pastime. We amble along a cherry tree-lined canal.
‘Snowflakes!’ cries Edward, stretching out joyful, playful arms to the sky. Petals waltz around us, airy and graceful in the breeze. Edward has never seen snow before, nor dancing cherry blossom.
Kinkaku-ji/Rokuon-ji features a dazzling golden three-storey pavilion set around a pond with a picturesque scattering of rocks and bridges amid pine and maple trees
We’re staying at Hiiragiya, a traditional ryokan, with painted paper sliding doors, tatami mats, cypress wooden baths and large windows with views over the camellia garden. It’s enchanting.
Clad in a kimono-like dressing gown, Edward tugs at my dress. He pouts and says: ‘Mummy, I think they forgot our beds.’
Thankfully, after a kaiseki tasting menu of delicacies served in lacquered doll-sized cabinets, futons are rolled out.
Edward curls into a slumbering ball, celebrating the simplicity of this moment. Children, truly, are wonders.
Wendy Wu Tours (wendywutours.co.uk) offers a 13-day Trails Of Japan tour, including flights and a stay in Kyoto, from £4,990pp.
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