The Modern Eight Views of Omi 7: Autumn Moon at Ishiyama 現代の近江八景7:石山秋月

Author’s note: This is the seventh installment in a series about the Eight Views of Omi. (Read part six here)

Please enjoy and follow along as we deconstruct the modern-day landscape of Shiga and examine its vibrant history and culture. Thank you for reading! – Maddie

著者メモ: 近江八景にかかるシリーズの第七稿です。(第六稿はここです

現代の滋賀県の景色を解体したり、豊かな歴史と文化を調べたりしているので、楽しんで読み進めてください!ご読了ありがとうございます。 – マディ

The days were hot now in Shiga, although the full force of summer humidity had yet to set in. At Ishiyama Temple, the summer season meant green. The ubiquitous Japanese maples and cherry blossoms, whose red and white colors drew large crowds in spring and fall, instead displayed light green leaves that complimented the dark needles of the cedars. The blue sky was blocked out by these dappled shades of green and below, the ground practically glowed with small plants and moss. Insects buzzed amongst them, but the temple itself was relatively devoid of people.


Photo by Emily Hammond・写真:エミリー・ハモンド

It took me nearly an hour to find a place to draw this time. The original Eight Views of Omi print, titled “Autumn Moon at Ishiyama Temple,” is a nod to Tale of Genji author Murasaki Shikibu. It is said that she thought of her famous novel upon viewing the full moon from Ishiyama Temple itself. For this reason, I had first intended to paint the building which offers the best view of the full moon, but with the benches and fence nearby, it didn’t make for a great composition overall.


Statue of Murasaki Shikibu at Ishiyama Temple・石山寺の像 (Photo by Emily Hammond・写真:エミリー・ハモンド)


I wandered all over the temple, admiring stone steps and plum trees and tiled temple roofs. Eventually, though, I was drawn back to the first place that had caught my eye: a modest shrine off one side of the long set of stone stairs that led up to the main temple courtyard. Its wooden surface was covered with black and white stickers, which I have heard denounced as graffiti but which I personally find beautiful. The shrine itself sits on one of Ishiyama Temple’s many large stones, covered in green moss and orange fungi. “Ishiyama” literally means “stone mountain”, and this scene, while not particularly famous, exceptionally captured what I think of when I hear Ishiyama Temple.


Photo by Emily Hammond・写真:エミリー・ハモンド

An unforeseen consequence of sitting and painting here was that every once in a while, a tour group would gather and pass me as they made their way up the stairs. Their presence was made clear by the sound of panting and dismayed voices gasping, “so many steps…” or “halfway there.” A fair number of people stopped to take a peek at my sketchbook, perhaps less out of curiosity and more because it was a good excuse to take a break from climbing.



This Miyazaki-esque scene had captured my interest, but the ordeal of drawing it was not all magical. I spent over an hour drawing and redrawing. I wanted to get the building, the earth, and the stone lantern into the frame, but again and again I got carried away in the details and the proportions were all wrong. I would sit, sketch, consider, erase, get up, and sit elsewhere, repeating this process four or five times. On an ordinary day I might have given up, but I knew I couldn’t return to the office the next day without anything to show for it, so I kept trying.



Ishiyama Temple by Madeline Thompson・マデリン・トンプソンの「石山寺」

The final piece bears no resemblance to the original print, but I came to terms with that. In the end, I’ve realized that my reason for making these drawings was really to use the famous prints as a guide for finding places and seeing how they inspire me now. Ishiyama Temple feels timeless, and that’s what I love about it.


Ishiyama Temple Gate・石山寺の仁王門(Photo by Emily Hammond・写真:エミリー・ハモンド)

I think that, particularly for Americans, Japan is appealing because the past feels so present. In my country, there are few ancient buildings to be found. Any history older than the 18th century was nearly wiped away, and I think many Americans look at their country’s past with a feeling of shame and longing to understand what was lost.



In Japan, it seems that the past is held close through modern society’s emphasis on protecting traditional culture. Ishiyama Temple exemplifies a blending of traditional and modern. Seasonal light-ups draw not only tourists but locals: families, friends, couples. Other attractions include a robotic version of Murasaki Shikibu and an animation about Ishiyama Temple projected on the wall of a traditional wooden building. Though I am sure the temple has changed greatly over time, it remains a cultural landmark of Otsu.


Guardian of Ishiyama Temple・石山寺の金剛力士像(Picture by Emily Hammond・写真:エミリー・ハモンド)

At the end of my day at Ishiyama Temple, I wandered the massive complex until it closed. I felt truly exhausted, but satisfied. I’ve always admired Japanese architecture, and actually trying to draw it had made me appreciate its complexity. Even after hundreds of years, the care and aesthetic sense in each wooden roof, manicured tree, and raked path continues to be a source of awe and inspiration to visitors and locals alike.


Click here to read the next chapter.



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