Northern Hirashiyama and the Philosopher’s path
We headed out early to get to our first destination before the masses. After yesterday’s masses of tourists at Kiyomizu we were doing everything we could to avoid the biggest crowds.
Our first stop was Higashiyama Jishō-ji Temple, meaning Temple of Shining Mercy. It was a beautiful morning and fortunately we were only a hand full of people who visited the temple this early, allowing for a peaceful and complete visit.
Jishō-ji is a Zen temple which was established in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eight Muromachi Shogunate. He built it as a villa for his retirement with the intention of making it a temple after his death, something which seems to have been the norm at the time.
It is our first meeting with architecture from the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) and the main hall, the Kannon-den, is built to emulate Kinkakuji at Rokuon-ji Temple, the very famous Golden Pavillon, which was built by Yoshimasa’s grandfather almost a century earlier.
However, unlike The Golden Pavillon, which we are still to visit, the Silver Pavillon – Ginkakuji – does not carry any silver, whatsoever. Apparently the nickname of the Kannon-den was only given during the Edo Period.
The Higashiyama Jishō-ji Temple is central to Japanese cultural life because it is the birthplace of the Higashiyama culture of the Muromachi Period which was introduced by Yoshimasa after his retirement to his villa. It is based on the aesthetics of Zen Buddhism and the concept of wabi-sabi.
Wabi was made from a word “Wabishii” which means “simple”. In addition, this “simple” contains also meaning “politeness” and “high quality”. It suggests us to find out real beautiful things hiding in our usual life, not imitations look gorgeous.
On the other hand, Sabi means to try to find out beauty in degradation as time goes by. It might be similar to the beauty of antiques. Especially Sabi was considered important in Haiku and a Noh theater, and now it became a theory of them. Matsuo Basho (1644-1699), a famous Haiku artist, said that Sabi is the core of beauty in his haiku.
It is during this period that Japan cultivates chadō (Japanese tea ceremony), ikebana (flower arranging), Noh drama, and shuimohua (ink painting). Japanese traditional culture as it is seen today, originates with the Higashiyama Bunka – The cultural period of the eight Muromachi shogunate.
The Philosopher’s Walk
At Higashiyama Jishō-ji begins the famous trail Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher’s Walk). On the information plaque indicating the beginning of the path it states:
The passage was completed in 1890 at the foot of the Higashiyama Mountain Range and was extended in 1912. The walking trail runs alongsinde the cherry tree lined Lake Biwa Canal. (Around 11.8 km from the Nyakuoji Bridge to the Jodoji Bridge.) There are famous temples and shrines nearby such as the World Heritage Ginkaku-ji Temple with a pleasant historical and cultural atmosphere.
In 1968, with the enthusiasm of local residents, Kyoto City completed the passage as a walking trail.
Since then, residents and the Kyoto City Water Supply and Sewage Bureau have worked on maintenance of the trail and it is a relaxing place for people living in Kyoto as well as for tourists with cherry blossoms in spring, fireflies in summer, coloured leaves in autumn and snowy scenery in winter.
In 1986, Philosopher’s Walk was chosen for the 100 Best Japanese Roads.
I imagine the path would be amazing though crowded during cherry blossom or with the colourful leaves of autumn, but in the heat of summer it was simply a relaxing walk away from the hustle and bustle of modern Kyoto.
Taking pictures moreover proved difficult because we constantly ran into a couple dressed in all pink – bright pink that is. Had they been Japanese I’d snapped their photo, but they were, like us, Western. And if there is something I dislike it is tourists dressing up in overly bright colours. They destroy the photos of all their fellow tourists with ghastly fashion choices which stand out more than the sights that should have been the main object of a photo.
So we played a little game called getting away from the pink couple as we slowly made our way down the Philosopher’s Walk.
We left the path about half way in order to reach the beautiful Hōnen-in Temple. Of all the temples in Kyoto that I had read about Hōnen-in was said to be one of the most stunning though lesser known. A favourite on several tourist sites. I was for that reason very keen on seeing it.
Unfortunately the temple itself was closed from the public, but we were allowed to wonder around the beautiful front garden with the rainforest feeling and gardeners working on the Byakusadan (sand gardens). Hōnen-in was like reaching a different world. A breather from the Kyoto noise and so unlike any other temples we had seen. Here the trees were not trimmed to fit the temple, they grew wildly around it. We could just as well have been in the middle of the jungle.
Returning to the Philosopher’s Path we continued a little while before heading off again to find the Reikanji Shrine. But after walking for ages through a residential area we gave up on finding it and once again returned to the Philosopher’s Path.
At this point I was pretty starving and when we finally reached the end of the path, I had only two things on my mind: nourishment and air-con.
But in the area we weren’t capable of finding any obvious restaurants in the residential area where the path ended, and after what felt like ages of walking we compromised on a small café offering green tea and various sweet delicacies.
Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple
Slightly refreshed and not as hungry as before we strolled in the direction of our next stop which was the splendid Eikan-dō Temple. The temple reaches back to the early Heian period in 853 AD when the priest Shinjō, who was a disciple of the famous Kōbō Daishi Kūkai, built a training hall for the practice of Shingon Buddhism. Ten years later Emperor Seiwa allowed Shinjō to establish a temple on the ground. The temple was burned down during the Ōnin Aars (1467-1477) but rebuilt in 1497 by order of the emperor.
Today the temple is a large area with beautiful buildings, long wooden pathways and lush green gardens. Several important artefacts are at display at the temple though photography is strictly forbidden.
I really liked the temple and even more the gardens which lay in every crook and nanny.
I was already pretty full on the impression barometer from all the temples we’d visited and been awed enough times through the day to think that I was immune, but when we reached the majestic Nanzen-ji, I simply had to admit that this was one of the most impressive temples I had yet to see.
The Five Mountains of Kyoto
After Chinese Chan inspiration, the Buddhist temples in Japan were structured with a hierarchy of temples, where at the top were the Five Mountains or gozan.
These were five original Zen Temples of Kamakura, known as Kamakura’s Five Mountains, and later also the five Zen Temples of Kyoto, named Kyoto’s Five Mountains.
The hierarchy began with the five Kyoto gozan, followed by the five Kamakura gozan. Then followed the ten temples, the so-called Jissetsu and then finally the shozan, the rest of the large temples.
The system was strongly supported by the military ruling class, the shogunate who used the gozan as de facto ministries each proceeding over a nationwide network of temples which was used for the distribution of government laws and norms, and for monitoring local conditions.
This made a strong connection between the military and religious power in Japan, allowing the military rulers to use the Buddhist network to efficiently rule Japan.
The five gozan of Kyoto were Tenryu-ji, Shokoku-ji, Kennin-ji, Tofuku-ji and Manju-ji of which we have seen none yet. But above all these stood Nanzen-ji, which in 1334 received the title First Temple of The Realm and held a supervising role as a government temple.
The temple burned down several times and rebuilt in 1597, while it was expanded during the Edo period.
It is therefore not surprising that Nanzen-ji is a massive temple complex with beautiful historical buildings and some of the finest gardens we’ve seen so far including the Hōjō Zen garden, consisting of rock and sand. If I had the time, I’d stay here soaking it all up for days.
And if my boyfriend hadn’t been so good at finding his way, we might have.
Walking under the beautiful aqueduct to the left of the main temple we followed a path passed Kōtoku-an Temple and up into the mountains to the small place of worship Oku-no-in.
It was easy enough to find the peaceful structures in the middle of the wilderness, but continuing down the path we soon realised that we were moving further and further away.
We ended up rolling down the mountain range and crossing a stream of water to find a way back to the Kōtoku-an Temple.
I can’t really explain how beautiful Nanzen-ji was, so hopefully the photos will do it just a minimum of justice.
Lunch and Heian Shrine
After Nanzen-ji and with only a bit of sweets to sustain me through the heat I was a dead woman walking. It was still difficult to find a place which sold more than the sweet refreshments. We passed Heian Shrine determined to find something to eat before heading there, but all the options were closing for the Japanese siesta.
Finally a little way down from Heian Shrine, we walked into a cool and relaxing restaurant called Oshokuji Dokoro Asuka and was given our own compartment upstairs, where we were served a feast fit for kings. By the time we had finished, I was rolling out the door happy and content and sure that I would never get as marvellous a meal ever again.
Content we returned the way we had come to visit the Heian Shrine, which welcomes visitors with a massive torii gate which can be seen miles away.
Heian Shrine dates back to the 1100 year anniversary of Kyoto in 1895 and as such is comparably new on the Kyoto scene. The building are partial replicas of the ancient imperial palace which stood at the site, though smaller in scale.
It is also a place with strict rules for taking photographies as we soon found out. While we have learned that it is not allowed to take pictures at the alters of many Shinto shrines, at Heian Shrine we were not even allowed to take a picture of the beautiful courtyard because we tried to take it at the stair of the Daigokuden (Main Hall). It seemed that even the idea of a photo being taken on the stair in the proximity of the Main Hall was sacrilege.
I have come to the conclusion that while I have no preference in regards to the religions, I do prefer the Buddhist Temples to the Shinto Shrines. They seem more peaceful and integrated with the greenery around them.
Heian Shrine is massive and beautiful, but I can’t seem to relax there to the same degree as at the temples. But perhaps my preference only stems from not having visited any of the smaller Shinto Shrines.
It was late afternoon when we’d finished and while my boyfriend was still eager to discover more of Kyoto, I had a dream of visiting the Nomura Tailor Shop in the centre. I have had this dream of buying some of the Japanese fabric which I see as cushions everywhere. The blue with different geometrical patterns.
And oh did I buy fabric. I shopped until I nearly dropped, and realising it was tax-free I shopped some more. The difficult part now, is how on earth am I ever getting it back home. It is quite heavy.
Fortunately I managed to meet up with my boyfriend once again allowing him to carry my purchases.
We ended the day with a cake in the department store Marui before a bit of late shopping, which was rather rushed thanks to the early Japanese closing time.
When we finally reached home we were dead tired and not too pleased that the electricity had gone out again stopping the air-con and making our room as hot as a boiler room. We went to bed at 1 am with a plan to visit Nara in the morning.
Temple count: 4 , Shrine count: 1