Ryūmonbaku – Dragon Gate Falls

Today I would like to talk about the Ryūmonbaku style waterfalls.

Do you know these falls where a stone represents a carp jumping up a fall to become a dragon?

The tale goes, that only a strong carp can manage to swim up a river with strong current and pass the dragon gate on top of the fall.
If one managed it, it will become a powerful dragon.

But did you know that in the original tale from China, the fish swimming up the river, is not a carp?

It is actually a sturgeon! But because a sturgeon was unknown in Japan at the time the tale arrived on the island and the Chinese Kanji for this fish are 黄鯉 – yellow carp, the tale was passed down with a carp jumping up the waterfall.

The picture above shows the very famous Ryūmonbaku from Tenryū-ji temple.
While the garden was designed by Musō Soseki, some people think the waterfall could be even older. But it definitely represents the waterfall from the Ryūmonbaku tale.
Today it is a dry waterfall, but once it carried water.

And as a small sidestory.. did you know that passing the examinations to become part of the administration of the historical Chinese emperor was was called “the dragon gate”? The emperor was associated with a dragon and the examinations were so hard, that it took a great effort to pass them.

In Japanese garden design the Ryūmonbaku falls stand for the difficulty to reach enlightenment.


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