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The Oi River gradually narrows until Kyoto's cityscape is
displaced by a world of seasonal, ethereal colors.
The Japanese word yugen --"immeasurable depth"-- is
used to describe this kaleidoscopic display of verdant greens veiled by mists,
reds and yellows decorating the hills in the fall,
and the white that blankets the scenery in the winter.
There is elegance in this beautiful serenity.
You embark on the boat that will take you to HOSHINOYA Kyoto. It begins to slowly drift along a river that once bustled with boats, which carried people as well as goods. Today, however, it is pleasantly quiet. You see a flock of kingfishers flying downstream, bringing with them a soothing breeze that cleanses your mind and body as you approach the resort. No matter the season, it is always a little cooler on the boat than it is on land. Finally, you arrive at your destination. The trip has taken just fifteen minutes--but each minute has felt momentous.
You look around, and all you see are hills. The scenery, however, is not primeval; it has been developed by human hands, through the strategic planting of trees, as well as the reshaping of the Oi River by a 17th century tycoon. The result is a vast Japanese garden, its aesthetic pleasures treading the line between the natural and the artificial. Today, it is a protected area that is home to HOSHINOYA Kyoto--a place where the natural elements reflect Japanese aesthetics. As you arrive at the gates, paths lined with rhododendrons beckon you deeper into the premises.
Serenity, you soon realize, is created not by the absence of sound, but the presence of a certain kind of sound--specifically, the sound of water. From your guest pavilion, you can hear both the gurgling of the stream flowing by the pavilion and the slightly quieter murmuring of the Oi River below. Other sounds soon drift in. From deep inside the forests across the river, you hear a doe calling its child. Evenings come alive with the singing of insects and frogs, to be replaced by birdsong in the morning. You feel as if the moss that decorates the premises is absorbing every sound, filtering them into the water so as to enhance its musical qualities.
Inside the guest pavilions are railings and doors of pristine wood, cleansed of every trace of grime and dirt through a traditional Kyoto woodworking technique known as arai. These objects have a timelessness that is reflected in the serene elegance of the pavilions. Here, you are lulled into a dream-like trance by the aroma of freshly laid tatami matting and the gentle flow of the Oi River, visible right outside the windows. Only the changes in the way the light glints off the gold patterns woven into the wallpaper reveal the passage of time.
The branches of ancient cherry and maple trees peek into view from the guest pavilion windows that frame the nature outside. There is a pleasing lack of calculation in the branches' forms; not even master gardeners who plan ten years ahead can predict the whims of nature. A summer bird lands on a leafy branch of a cherry tree. Suddenly, you notice the seating in the pavilion has been designed so your gaze is level with the birds and insects that visit the trees. You decide to sit back and enjoy this constantly changing picture.
You wake up early one morning and decide to take a walk. The morning mist slowly dissipates, leaving behind glistening dew on the stones lining the footpaths. Dew also sparkles from the Zen garden at the far end of the premises, where an enormous 400-year-old maple tree holds court. White flowers blossom on a pearlbush beside the tree, a reminder of the green leaves the maple will soon be sporting before they turn crimson in the fall. Just as the sun travels across the sky in an uninterrupted arc, the seasons here transition from one to another in an unbroken sequence.