Yoshida Kenkō

The world is as unstable as the pools and shallows of Asuka River. Times change and things disappear: joy and sorrow come and go; a place that once thrived turns into an uninhabited moor; a house may remain unaltered, but its occupants will have changed. The peach and the damson trees in the garden say nothing—with whom is one to reminisce about the past? I feel this sense of impermanence even more sharply when I see the remains of a house which long ago, before I knew it, must have been imposing.

Whenever I pass by the ruins of the Kyōgoku Palace, the Hōjōji, and similar buildings, it moves me to think that the aspiration of the builders still lingers on, though the edifices themselves have changed completely. When Fujiwara no Michinaga erected so magnificent a temple, bestowing many estates for its support, he supposed that his descendants would always assist the emperor and serve as pillars of the state; could he have imagined that the temple would fall into such ruin, no matter what times lay ahead? The Great Gate and the Golden Hall were still standing until recent years, but the Gate burned during the Shōwa era, and the Golden Hall soon afterwards fell over. It still lies there, and no attempt has been made to restore it. Only the Muryōju Hall remains as a memento of the temple’s former glory. Nine images of the Amida Buddha, each sixteen feet tall, stand in a row, most awesomely. It is extremely moving to see, still plainly visible, the plaque inscribed by the Major Counselor Kōzei and the door inscription by Kaneyuki. I understand that the Hokke Hall and perhaps other buildings are still standing. I wonder how much longer they too will last?

Some buildings that lack even such remains may survive merely as foundation stones, but no one knows for certain to what they once belonged. It is true in all things that it is a futile business attempting to plan for a future one will never know.

From Essays in Idleness, translated by Donald Keene