Kyoto: 日 5 – Arashiyama

We started our visit with a bit of refreshment in the way of green tea and Japanese sweets, in the cooling shade at the charming tea ceremony room Tekisui-an.

We took the cute little Randen Train from Omura Ninnaji to Arashiyama. Though still in Kyoto, Arashiyama feels like a town all on its own and so far away from all the rest of the city.

Randen Train at Omura Ninnaji
Randen Train at Omura Ninnaji

We began our walk down main street towards the Togetsu-kyo Bridge which spans a wide river which changes name at the bridge. Upstream it is Oi-gawa and downstream it is known as Katsura-gawa. The name of the bridge means moon crossing and legend has it that when Emperor Kameyama, who ruled during the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), went boating on the river under a full moon, he found that the moon looked like crossing the bridge. The present bridge was built in 1934, and while it looks like a wooden bridge, it is in fact enforced with concrete pillars.

Rickshaws at Oi-gawa
Rickshaws at Oi-gawa

The view over the Ōi River is beautiful and with the mountain Arashiyama as a magnificent backdrop. The area takes up its name from that very mountain which means Storm Mountain and which today houses a monkey park. But seeing as we were running a bit late we skipped our visit to the see wild monkeys, and made our way towards the first amongst Kyoto’s Five Mountains of Zen: Tenryu-ji Temple.

Entrance to Tenryū-ji Temple
Entrance to Tenryū-ji Temple
Tenryū-ji Temple

Tenryū Shiseizen-ji lies on the main road of Arashiyama and not a stone-throw from Togetsu-kyo Bridge, but we still managed to get lost as we attempted to take a back road from a side street of the Ōi River.

It lies at the spot of Japan’s first Zen temple, Danrin-ji which was founded by Empress Tachibana no Kachiko (786-850) sometime in the ninth century. As such the place has a special meaning in Zen Buddhism.

Roof detail at Tenryū-ji Temple
Roof detail at Tenryū-ji Temple

For a period following the disrepair of Danrin-ji the place was used by emperors as a detached palace and residence. The last emperor to use it was Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339), and it was in his memory that the shogun Ashikaga Takauji established Tenryū-ji in 1339. He paid for the construction of the temple by two successful trading missions to China, and it was officially consecrated in 1345.

Since the beginning, Tenryū-ji has been ravaged and destroyed by fire eight times, one of these was during the Ōnin Wars. The last fire was in 1864 only four years prior to the Meiji Restoration. As the temple was undergoing rebuilding, the Meiji government confiscated most of the temple grounds, leaving it with only a tenth of its past land mass. Yet, the temple survived and was gradually rebuild throughout the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The last step towards the temple we see today was made in 1934.

View of Tenryū-ji Temple garden
View of Tenryū-ji Temple garden

I am beginning to establish a self-made order to the many temples I’ve seen in Japan and particularly in Kyoto. Some of them are dusty, placed in between roads with large magnificent buildings, yet not much greenery around such as To-ji, but also Tōdai-ji temple in Nara. Others are hidden in the woods like the small but beautiful Honen-in, and the large infamous Kiyomizu-dera. Two extremes – one where man prevails and one where nature is the dominant party.

Then there are those as Ryōan-ji but also Rokuen-ji and Higashiyama Jishō-ji with their gold and silver pavilions, respectively. Temples placed at the centre of beautifully laid out natural surrounding gardens, which resemble parks.

Buddha statues in Arashiyama
Buddha statues in Arashiyama

However, my favourite are those where the gardens are a natural extension of the temple buildings. The small Ryogen-ji temple where the main halls continue into the Zen gardens and even the small space between the halls has become a small, but symbolic piece of cosmos: Totekiko. To a similar but much larger degree, both the majestic Nanzen-ji in Northern Hirashiyama and now magnificent Tenryū-ji in Arashiyama have large and beautiful white halls which shine under the blue summer sky, with moss green gardens lapping at their feet. Walking around all three is a journey of discovery, where around every corner the scenery takes your breath away – small or big, what I felt these places was harmony.

Though Tenryū-ji dates all the way back to 1345 the buildings are from the Meiji Period. I wonder how during a time when traditional and cultural Japan was at such a defence did they manage to build such exquisite and light buildings. My favourite part however is once again the way the halls open up into the man created nature that is the temple garden.

The top of the bamboo
The top of the bamboo
At the end of the bamboo road…

From Tenryū-ji we followed the main road further north before turning left towards one of Kyoto’s biggest tourist attractions, the Arashiyama bamboo grove. As with the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha my hope was to get a photo or two without the masses. I never really managed one without anyone on, but I did get a few where the people added to the photo.

Japanese ladies promenading the bamboo grove
Japanese ladies promenading the bamboo grove

In all it was quite a beautiful walk with the majestic bamboo raising to the sky above us, enclosing us in their own little world.

Children enjoying the bamboo grove
Children enjoying the bamboo grove

We reached the end of the road leading to Okochi Sanso villa, which we already beforehand had decided that we wished to visit.

Okochi Sanso was the private villa of the famoous silent-film era actor, Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962). He constructed this unique garden villa on the south side of Mount Ogura over a 30 year period.

From Okochi Sanso pamphlet

Entrance to Okochi Sanso
Entrance to Okochi Sanso

We started our visit with a bit of refreshment in the way of green tea and Japanese sweets, in the cooling shade at the charming tea ceremony room Tekisui-an.

Tea time at the tea ceremony room Tekisui-an
Tea time at the tea ceremony room Tekisui-an

It was a welcome reprieve from the crazy amount of sightseeing we’d done so far. It felt like ages ago that we were waiting for Ryoan-ji to open or enjoying pancakes at MacD.

The grounds of Okochi Sanso
The grounds of Okochi Sanso

After our refreshment we walked through the beautiful multi-level garden with its view over the surrounding area. Yet another beautiful garden on this our garden day.

Garden path at Okochi Sanso
Garden path at Okochi Sanso

From Okochi Sanso we returned to the Ōi River following it down stream until we reached the moon crossing bridge Togetsu-kyo as the sky was becoming slightly purple and light was giving way to darkness. My boyfriend was still not sated and as I was absolutely done for the day, we decided to split up for the evening. While he crossed the bridge in order to explore the other side, I ventured back to the main train station of Arashiyama.

Togetsu-kyo Bridge
Togetsu-kyo Bridge

But I didn’t get far before I was caught by the sight of several silk haori on sale. Haori is a shorter kimono version, or kimono jacket. I ended up spending 30 minutes looking through the many options with a kind Japanese salesman helping me out. However, for the most part he was dragged into the drama of another western customer who was in strong need of assistance incapable of deciding on a yukata. Thank goodness, I’d already found my perfect yukata on our first day in Nagoya. After a while I ended up with a beautiful black silk haori with bamboo on the back. A small memory of Arashiyama and the bamboo grove.

Boats on Ōi-gawa
Boats on Ōi-gawa

Mighty pleased I was ready to shop and ended up in a few other stores as I slowly made my way to the station. Arriving home, I went for a bit to eat at the Italian Restaurant across the street Modern Times. This time the old lady had been exchanged with two young guys, though pasta was still a missing commodity. I ended up with an omelet, while enjoying the two guys as they got held up in an overly exciting baseball match. Apparently, baseball is huge in Japan, go figure.

Ciao

Zofka

Temple count: 1, villa count: 1

Kyoto: 日 5 – Northwest Kyoto

The misty morning had turned into a beautiful day and in this very moment, at this place I felt peaceful. It made me appreciate even more the wabi-sabi of Japanese culture.

After getting to bed way to late last night, it was an absolute hell to get up at 6 this morning. My head was pounding from lack of sleep and I was nearly convinced that I was coming down with the flue. Nonetheless we took an early bus out to Ryōan-ji Temple. We had a busy schedule ahead of us and a dream to see the Rock Garden of Ryōan-ji without getting cramped by others with the same idea.

However, we might have been a bit enthusiastic because we got there way too early and without having thought of bringing breakfast, and after walking a bit from the nearest bus stop we ended up having to wait for half an hour. When we finally made our way to the entrance ten minutes before opening hours, the lady let us through acting as if they’d been open for hours.

At this time my headache was pounding, but the peaceful quietness of Ryōan-ji Temple gave me a chance to relax a bit.

Reflections at Ryōan-ji
Reflections at Ryōan-ji
Ryōan-ji Temple and Rock Garden

The temple was originally a country villa for the aristocratic Tokudaiji clan, but was converted into a Zen training temple in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto. As many other temples and cultural buildings in Kyoto it was destroyed during the Onin war and rebuild in 1499. It is a rather large temple complex as it was expanded by Toyotomi Hideyashi and Tokugawa. At its peak the temple held 23 sub-temples.

But idyllic as the temple is, people come here for a rather specific reason and I managed to get out of bed so early this morning with the hope of experiencing it without anyone else around. Ryōan-ji is best known for its karesansui (dry landscape) style rock garden.

Ryōan-ji early in the morning
Ryōan-ji early in the morning

It was a misty morning and after we made our way around the Kyoyochi Pond and into the Kuri (the main hall) from where we walked through to the Hojo ( The Superior’s Hall). The Hojo opens up to the small 25 by 10 meter garden consisting only of 15 rocks, white pebbles and moss.

The 15 rocks arranged on a surface of white pebbles in a rectangular site symbolically represent nature, yet the garden contains neither a single tree nor blade of grass. It is also known as the “baby tiger crossing” because it resembles a tiger crossing a mountain stream with its cub.

Information plaque at Ryōan-ji Temple

There is no specific date or creator for the garden and it doesn’t show up in written sources until 1680, but most sources place the creation at the garden at some point in the 15th century. According to the pamphlet at the temple the garden is said to have been constructed by the Zen monk Tokuho Zenketsu during the end of the Muromachi Period. But I haven’t read this anywhere else. No matter what it is a masterpiece of a dry landscape garden and as another information plaque states: it is renowned throughout the world as the ultimate example of the karesansui […].

And yes, we got it all for ourselves. A peaceful twenty minutes of breathing in the misty morning and looking out into the Zen that is the Ryōan-ji temple rock garden.

Kinkakuji - The Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji – The Golden Pavilion
Rokuen-ji Temple and the Golden Pavilion

We’d planed the day in regards to the opening hours of the different temples, and next on our list was one of Kyoto’s biggest tourist attractions Kinkakuji – The Golden Pavilion at Rokuen-ji Temple. But for some insane reason we managed to get on a bus which took a different route than the one we’d checked up on. Thus, rather than standing in a temple looking at a golden pavilion we ended up in a parking lot, looking at a golden M. I was near collapsing with my pounding head-ache and I needed a bit of air-con and breakfast. So we gave up on reaching Rokuen-ji early and settled in for some American pancakes with maple syrup.

Leaves
Leaves

After finishing a well needed breakfast, we headed out on food in the direction of The Golden Pavilion. When we finally arrived, crowds of other tourists had already descended on the place and we were by all means far away from the peace of the Ryōan-ji temple rock garden, or even the parking lot.

Gardeners at work at Rokuen-ji Temple
Gardeners at work at Rokuen-ji Temple

Having seen Ginkaku, The Silver Pavilion, yesterday, I was very eager to compare it to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion. The area was originally owned by the Saionji clan, but was acquired by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Muromachi Period in 1397. Yoshimitsu built a villa on the premises which he named Kitayama-den, and when he died it was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple according to his will.

Rokuen-ji Temple garden
Rokuen-ji Temple garden

The most striking feature is in no doubt the beautiful Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku or the Shariden, which is a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha. It is a beautiful three storied structure covered in gold foil on lacquer, and I can’t help wondering if the gold foil originates in Kanazawa. It very well might as the present pavilion is from 1955 and the current gold foil on lacquer from 1987. The original pavilion was burned down by a mentally ill novice-monk in 1950. As such, there is also doubt as to whether the pavilion was truly covered in so much gold as at present. Nonetheless, the current structure was built as close to the original as possible and is a proof of the beauty of Muromachi-period architecture.

Leaves
Leaves

The garden and buildings of the temple, with the pavilion at its centre, is said to symbolise the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. All the original buildings apart from the pavilion were destroyed with the Onin War, which makes the 1950 burn down of the pavilion extraordinarily sad.

Tea break at Kinkakuji - Rokuen-ji Temple
Tea break at Kinkakuji – Rokuen-ji Temple

But present day Kinkaku is beautiful nonetheless, and it is a magnificent sight to see it reflecting in the pond. Unfortunately the morning was still a bit misty, making it difficult for the sun rays to catch the gold of the pavilion. In addition, we had to do quite an elbow dance to get into position for a photo, as several groups of Russians and Chinese had congregated on the small area across from the pavilion, where all the million-dollars shots are taken.

View of Kinkakuji - the Golden Pavillion
View of Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavillion
Ryogen-in and the five gardens of Zen

Getting away from the tourist masses at Rokuen-ji, we took a bus – the correct bus – towards the next stop of the day.

Tree support at Daitoku-ji
Tree support at Daitoku-ji

Before we left from home we came across a BBC program about gardens and an episode about the Chinese and Japanese gardens. This program had introduced us to our next stop, the small Ryogen-in Zen Temple and its five gardens. Fortunately, it seemed that not many others had seen the same program.

Butsuden Hall at Daitoku-ji
Butsuden Hall at Daitoku-ji

Ryogen-in is one of 23 sub-temples of the Daitoku-ji temple complex. Walking through the complex is like walking through a residential villa area, except the villas are temples. We found a tree stub where we had a bit of lunch before investigating a fraction of the many temples of the complex.

In the end we reached Ryogen-in which from the outside seemed insignificant. But I can tell you this. It has become one of the best experiences of this trip so far, and that is saying something.

Entrance of Ryogen-in Temple
Entrance of Ryogen-in Temple

The temple was constructed in 1502 and many of the buildings still stand from that time. The small temple has five distinctive gardens all of which are absolutely stunning in their own right.

Ryugin-tei

The main garden Ryugin-tei (Dragon Singing Garden) is said to be the eldest in the Daitoku-ji Temple complex and claimed as the work of Sōami, a famous painter and landscape artist in the service of the Ashikaga shogunate, who has also been named as the creator of the garden at Jishō-ji Temple, which we visited yesterday.

Ryugin-tei
Ryugin-tei

I found the following description of the meaning behind the Ryugin-tei garden in The Art of the Japanese Garden by David and Michiko Young:

It represents the universe, consisting of mountains arising from the sea. The main stone grouping, close to the wall in the back, features a tall rock tilted to the east. It is generally thought to depict sacred Mount Shumisen, the center of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist thought. […] An alternative interpretation is that the grouping as a whole represents a dragon, the tilted stone serving as its head. In Zen, a dragon is the symbol of the Buddha nature or enlightenment. Originally the area covered with moss consisted of raked gravel.

The fact that these gardens are so full of symbolism is quite amazing. It adds to the mysticism of Japanese culture and reminds me of the many symbolic acts which are represented in Sumo. Though Sumo originates in Shintoism and the Zen Gardens are a part of Buddhist enlightenment, to me it all adds up to a culture where every little detail and gesture has meaning and is part of the larger order of things.

A-un (Koda-tei)
A-un (Koda-tei)
A-un

While Ryogin-tei is the most important of the five gardens of Ryogen-in it is not the first that a visitor meets. As we entered the small temple we were met with a long rock garden consisting of two large stones and white pebble. According to the pamphlet the stones were taken from Jurakudai Castle which was dismantle around 1615. The garden is called A-un, which means inhale and exhale, heaven and earth, positive and negative, male and female. Concepts which are inseparable from each other. As such, A-un shows the truth of the universe and the very essence of Zen.

Isshidan

Next to A-un lies Isshidan garden, which was re-modeled in 1980 after the tree in the garden withered away at age 700. Nothing lasts forever. Therefore, the garden is rather new, yet it makes a lasting impression on the visitor. The pamphlet once again aided us in understanding the symbolism of the garden, as we could read that the garden was reconstructed by the priest Katsudo as a horai-san style rock garden (whatever that is), where the centre rock represents Mt. Horai, while the two rocks in the right corner depict Crane Island, and the moss mound is Tortoise Island, with the white sand showing the sea.

Isshidan
Isshidan

I was very happy for the pamphlet because it offered an explanation to what we saw. Without it I don’t think we would have appreciated the beauty of the gardens to the same extend or felt the peaceful balance that they somehow created.

However, the next garden on the small walk around the Hojo was not explained in the pamphlet and even after returning home I could still not find any information on this particular garden. I wonder, with so much thought and symbolism put into the others, why is this left apart from the symbolic culture of Zen Buddhism.

Totekiko
Totekiko
Totekiko

The last of the five gardens was also the smallest. Totekiko was created by Nabeshima Gakusho in 1958, it is claimed as the smallest rock garden in Japan. Its symbolism is simple: the harder a stone is thrown in, the bigger the ripples. In the information pamphlet this is further explained:

On the right side of the garden, there is a flat sheet of rock, and the circular wave designs represent falling drops of water. Just as one drop of water becomes a small river, and then a larger river, and finally a large ocean, this garden expresses the preciousness of one drop, and the fact that one drop leads to a big sea.

But I am never one for simple explanations and after our visit, I found this passage in A History of Religion in 5½ Objects by S. Brent Plate:

Named Totekiko, this garden – like its older and better-known kare-sansui ancestor in nearby Ryoanji – can be seen as containing the entire cosmos in its small size. All the tensions, all the forces, all the important objects are reduced to the tight space of this enclosure. Many summaries of the garden claim that Totekiko represents a Zen adage about how “the harder a stone is thrown in, the bigger the ripples”. In this way, the carefully raked gravel represents a body of water while the larger stones are the stone thrown into the gravel.
Observers also see the five large stones as islands in the sea, with waves lapping against them. Three stones are on one end and two on the other, which also harkens back to Chinese mythology of the five isles of the Immortals. And then again, perhaps these are mountains, another vital component in Japanese mythology, emerging from a surrounding foggy landscape. More down to earth, as with the famous mother tiger and cubs interpretation of the stone garden at Ryoan-ji, the stones might be animals or humans crossing a stream, caught in the current of life

So many symbolic interpretations of such a small space tucked in between two buildings.

We stayed in Ryogen-in for almost an hour simply enjoying the peace of the temple gardens, sitting there watching the carved ripples of the grave lapping at the ancient stones. The misty morning had turned into a beautiful day and in this very moment, at this place I felt peaceful. It made me appreciate even more the wabi-sabi of Japanese culture.

Ninna-ji
Ninna-ji
Ninna-ji

After Ryogen-in we were heading towards Arashiyama, which is a famous area to the west of Kyoto. But my boyfriend who unlike me never seems to tire from hurting feet, suggested that we’d take a look at Ninna-ji on the way. I already felt pressured by time as we were nearing one o’clock and I’d hoped to have plenty of time in Arashiyama, but nonetheless I accepted. However, Ninna-ji might be on the way, but there was a long walk from the bus stop to the temple and when we arrived all the peace of the Zen gardens had left us as we were suffering the humid midday sun.

Pagoda at Ninna-ji
Pagoda at Ninna-ji

Perhaps that was why I wasn’t very fascinated by Ninna-ji and not to eager to wonder around too much. Shade was limited in the park surrounding the temple. However, we did meet a very friendly caretaker, who was making sure that none of the tourists stepped on a couple of cicadas mating on the stairs of the temple. I wonder if he could see how much I suffered from the heat and how tired I was, or if he was as friendly to all the tourists, but he made me a small origami crane as I was asking him questions about the place.

The caretaker at Ninna-ji
The caretaker at Ninna-ji

And while the walk from the bus to Ninna-ji had been rough, we were only a stone-throw away from the train to Arashiyama. And I am able to add one more temple to my temple count.

There is so much to see in Kyoto, and I really want to understand the background of the places and sights we visit. This constantly leads to very long blogs about Kyoto and probably not very light reading either. But this blog is mostly for me, so if everyone else falls asleep, then sleep tight. However, I am going to cut this blog into two as it is already proving to be quite extensive and we only just passed 1 o’clock. Next up, Arashiyama!

Zofka

Temple count: 5 (I am including Kourin-in, another of the Daitoku-ji sub-temples)

Day trip to Fushimi Inari Taisha and Nara

They came from nowhere, this mean group of deer and snatched our map right out of my hand.

My boyfriend convinced me to take a day trip from Kyoto to the ancient capital Nara. In order to fit everything into our tight temple and shrine schedule in Kyoto we decided to begin the day by dropping in at iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Tower gate (Rōmon) at Fushimi Inari Taisha
Tower gate (Rōmon) at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha

The place is one of the most recognisable in Japan and often covers the front of guidebooks. What makes it so famous is its thousands of closely placed Torii gates, which creates an almost otherworldly atmosphere both in photos and when standing in the midst of it.

Visitor to Fushimi Inari Taisha
Visitor to Fushimi Inari Taisha

However, with so many other places in Kyoto the shrine was overrun with tourists, us included, and everyone was fighting to get that one shot of their kids alone at the Torii gates.

Small torii gates
Small torii gates

Irritation could be tasted in the air as people, me included, were tripping to push that couple, which has been honking up the good place, out of the way.

The mountain trail of torii gates
The mountain trail of torii gates

I almost elbowed a gay couple who took way too long. And I am sure others rolled their eyes at me as I took my time getting that picture which makes the viewer believe that it is a peaceful place off the beaten path.

Inari train station
Inari train station

Feeling the crowds around us, we decided to skip our idea of trekking all the way to the top and returned to the train station from where we hopped on a direct train to Nara.

The mountain trail
The mountain trail

Nara

In his attempt to persuade me to go on this day trip, my boyfriend had been explaining something about deer, but I honestly didn’t get it. The last thing I want is to go to the zoo.

Blow-up deer
Blow-up deer

But not long after arriving in Nara it became obvious that the deer were not secluded to the zoo or a nature park. Rather the city of Nara was their nature park.

Deer looking for lunch
Deer looking for lunch

At first we spotted a group of deer lying in the side of the road in the smack middle of the city centre at a rather trafficked road. More deer were relaxing in the shade of the nearby park, while tourists were feeding them deer crackers.

Deer crackers for sale
Deer crackers for sale

I have seen many things in my life, but the symbiosis existing between humans and deer in Nara surprised me. I never in my wildest imagination could have thought that a city existed where deer walked among men.

Relaxing with deer
Relaxing with deer
Buddhism in Nara

But Nara is known for something else besides its deery population. Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan and was established in 710 AD at a time when it was known as Heijo.

The Daibutsuden Hall
The Daibutsuden Hall

However, it only lasted 74 years before the Buddhist monks became too powerful and the emperor and government moved the capitol from the city to Nagaoke. Here it existed for 10 years before the thousand year reign of Kyoto as imperial capital of Japan.

Vairocana Buddha and Kokuzo Bosatsu
Vairocana Buddha and Kokuzo Bosatsu

In this way, Nara is the older and less known sister of Kyoto. The period during Nara’s – or Heijo’s – reign as imperial capital is known as the Nara Period.

Komoku-ten, the Guardian King of the West
Komoku-ten, the Guardian King of the West

The Nara Period is known for its large influence from Chinese society and Confucian ideals. Heijo-kyo was modelled after Chang’an, capital of the Tang Dynasti and reached 200.000 people with 10.000 working in government jobs. Moreover, Buddhism became a large influence and permanent presence in Japan during this period.

Tamonten Guardian of the North
Tamonten Guardian of the North

As a Buddhist stronghold with powerful monasteries, it is no surprise that one of Nara’s biggest attractions is the large bronze Buddha statue, build in 752 AD. It stands in the Tōdai-ji temple, which was once one of the seven great temples of Nara influencing the Nara Period and one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.

Buddhist monk on holiday
Buddhist monk on holiday

The statue was massive, but I found greater fun in the tons of deer wondering around just outside the temple domain, mingling with eager tourists.

15 meter tall Vairocana Buddha
15 meter tall Vairocana Buddha

Many of the deer were fed deer crackers and went ballistic as soon as they heard the cracking, running towards which ever small boy was holding them. But I soon found out that apart from crackers, the deer loved paper.

Cheeky deer
Cheeky deer

While standing outside a souvenir ship figuring out which way to go next and holding our only map in my hand, I was the victim of a deer sneak attack. They came from nowhere, this mean group of deer and snatched our map right out of my hand.

Give me back my map!
Give me back my map!

Though I attempted to get it back, I succeeded only in getting a half chewed ball of paper which I had the fortune to carry around for another half an hour due to the lack of public garbage cans. Yeah me!

Isuien Garden
Isuien Garden
Isuien Garden

I enjoyed the deer and I was fascinated with the grand Buddha of Tōdai-ji temple, but I found peace at Isuien Garden. It is by far the most beautiful Japanese garden I have experienced so far. Perhaps because unlike the Kenrokuen garden of Kanazawa it is small and intimate.

Sanshu-tei Tea House in Isuien Garden
Sanshu-tei Tea House in Isuien Garden

Originally it was two gardens, which now is the front and the rear gardens of Isuien Garden. The front garden was bought by Kiyosumi in the 1670’s and reconstructed between 1673 and 1681 after it originally formed part of a temple.

Sanshu-tei Tea house
Sanshu-tei Tea house

The beautiful Sanshu-tei house, which means house of the three wonders, is from that reconstruction.

Trail in Isuien Garden
Trail in Isuien Garden

After a long day at Fushimi Inari Taisha and Nara, my feet are killing me. My boyfriend claims that most of the trip I have been saying that I can’t walk any further and for the life of me I can’t understand how I’ve made it. But I am mighty pleased that we took this day trip and I will never forget the surrealism of walking with deer in Nara.

Zofka

Kyoto: 日3

So we played a little game called getting away from the pink couple as we slowly made our way down the Philosopher’s Path.

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.

The roof top of Ginkakuji
The roof top of Ginkakuji
Ginkakuji

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.

Ginkakuji at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
Ginkakuji at Higashiyama Jishō-ji

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.

Tōgu-dō at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
Tōgu-dō at Higashiyama Jishō-ji

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.

A pond at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
A pond at Higashiyama Jishō-ji

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.

Trees and moss at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
Trees and moss at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
Higashiyama Bunka

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

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.

Sabi

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.

Traverse Japan

A wishing pond at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
A wishing pond at Higashiyama Jishō-ji

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.

Trees and moss at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
Trees and moss at Higashiyama Jishō-ji
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.

Philosopher's Walk
Philosopher’s Walk

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.

Stone lanterns at Hōnen-in
Stone lanterns at Hōnen-in
Hōnen-in

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.

Japanese detail at Hōnen-in
Japanese detail at Hōnen-in

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.

Stone gardening at Hōnen-in
Stone gardening at Hōnen-in

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.

Flower at Hōnen-in
Flower at Hōnen-in

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.

Soybean ice-cream
Soybean ice-cream

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.

Green tea and ice-cream break
Green tea and ice-cream break
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.

Walkway at Eikan-dō
Walkway at Eikan-dō

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.

Small garden at Eikan-dō
Small garden at Eikan-dō

I really liked the temple and even more the gardens which lay in every crook and nanny.

Bell at Eikan-dō
Bell at Eikan-dō
Nanzen-ji

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.

Nanzen-ji main hall
Nanzen-ji main hall
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.

San-mon gate at Nanzen-ji
San-mon gate at Nanzen-ji

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.

Hattō of Nanzen-ji
Hattō of Nanzen-ji

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.

Stone garden at Nanzen-ji
Stone garden at Nanzen-ji

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.

Hōjō Zen garden at Nanzen-ji
Hōjō Zen garden at Nanzen-ji

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.

Moss covered garden at Nanzen-ji
Moss covered garden at Nanzen-ji

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.

Tree stump detail in garden at Nanzen-ji
Tree stump detail in garden at Nanzen-ji

The temple burned down several times and rebuilt in 1597, while it was expanded during the Edo period.

Wooden path at Nanzen-ji
Wooden path at Nanzen-ji

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.

Hōjō Zen garden at Nanzen-ji
Hōjō Zen garden at Nanzen-ji

And if my boyfriend hadn’t been so good at finding his way, we might have.

Aqueduct at Nanzen-ji
Aqueduct at Nanzen-ji

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.

Stairs to Oku-no-in
Stairs to 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.

Small figurine at Oku-no-in
Small figurine at Oku-no-in

We ended up rolling down the mountain range and crossing a stream of water to find a way back to the Kōtoku-an Temple.

Overlooking Oku-no-in
Overlooking Oku-no-in

I can’t really explain how beautiful Nanzen-ji was, so hopefully the photos will do it just a minimum of justice.

Moss garden at Nanzen-ji
Moss garden at Nanzen-ji
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.

Lunch at Oshokuji Dokoro Asuka near Heian Shrine
Lunch at Oshokuji Dokoro Asuka near Heian Shrine

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.

The torii gate of Heian Shrine
The torii gate of Heian Shrine

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.

Outenmon of the Chōdōin
Outenmon of the Chōdōin

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.

Wall of Ema – Japanese wooden wishing plagues
Wall of Ema – Japanese wooden wishing plagues

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.

The left tower called Sōryūrō (blue dragon tower)
The left tower called Sōryūrō (blue dragon tower)

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.

Temizu - Shinto water purification
Temizu – Shinto water purification

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.

Sakedaru - barrels with rice wine at Heian Shrine
Sakedaru – barrels with rice wine at Heian Shrine

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.

Kyoto by night
Kyoto by night

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.

Kyoto passage by night
Kyoto passage by night

Fortunately I managed to meet up with my boyfriend once again allowing him to carry my purchases.

Demonstration in Kyoto
Demonstration in Kyoto

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.

Restaurant in Ponto-chō
Restaurant in Ponto-chō

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.

Main street in Ponto-chō
Main street in Ponto-chō

Sleepy greetings

Zofka

Temple count: 4 , Shrine count: 1

Kyoto: 日2

However, I must admit that I was contemplating taking the plunge as we were stuck between large masses of tourist groups on the stage in the middle of the terrifying humidity. It might have been the easiest way down.

Southern Hirashiyama and Gion

Our second day in Kyoto was absolutely jam packed with sightseeing. We began the day at the extremely famous and popular Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple).

Kiyomizudera
Kiyomizudera

It is one of those must-see attractions and we were far from the only ones to visit it. In fact we were already grumpy and strung out from the massive crowds and the intolerable heat long before we reached the top of the street leading towards the temple.

Japanese purses
Japanese purses

Parts of the temple were undergoing construction and it was hard to see the rest due to the crowds. But still I am happy that we visited and I can imagine how beautiful it must be in autumn surrounded by trees full of red coloured autumn leaves.

Kiyomizudera and the view of Kyoto
Kiyomizudera and the view of Kyoto
Kiyomizu

Kiyomizudera (dera means temple) dates back to 778 AD and was associated with the Buddhist Hosso Sect, which is one of the six sects of Nara Buddhism and as such one of the eldest in Japan.

Kiyomizudera pagoda
Kiyomizudera pagoda

In 1965, the abbot of the temple broke with the Hosso sect and established the Kisa-Hosso Sect, meaning Northern Hosso sect in order to assure a new form of Buddhism in a socially changing society.

Documented worship at Kiyomizudera
Documented worship at Kiyomizudera

Most of the temple’s present structures date back to the third shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Iemitsu, who ordered it build in 1633. By all accounts its most astonishing feature and what makes Kiyomizu stand out among the numerous Kyoto temples is the Hinoki wooden stage which hangs out in front of the main hall with 13 meter long pillars down to the slope of the hill. It is an impressive piece of engineering and from the wooden stage there is a beautiful view over Kyoto cityscape.

A small hut for resting at Kiyomizu
A small hut for resting at Kiyomizu

The equivalent Japanese expression to the phrase ‘to take the plunge’ is ‘to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu’. It stems from the Edo period when it was believed that if you were to survive the 13 meter jump from the Hinoki wooden stage, your wish would be granted.

Japanese Paper Wishes
Japanese Paper Wishes

234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is understandably prohibited now. (Sacred Destinations)

'To jump off the stage at Kiyomizu'
‘To jump off the stage at Kiyomizu’

However, I must admit that I was contemplating taking the plunge as we were stuck between large masses of tourist groups on the stage in the middle of the terrifying humidity. It might have been the easiest way down.

Ema - Japanese wooden wishing plagues
Ema – Japanese wooden wishing plagues

Behind Kiyomizu lies the Shinto shrine Jishu Shrine which is dedicates to the Japanese god in charge of love and good matches. For 1300 years he has been the Japanese equivalent to Cupid.

Okuninushi-no-Mikoto
Okuninushi-no-Mikoto

The extent of young Japanese visitors to this shrine might indicate his continued popularity.

Temizu - Shinto water purification
Temizu – Shinto water purification
Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka

Leaving behind the majestic views of Kiyomizu, we slowly walked north through Southern Hirashiyama. We began by walking down the pedestrian streets Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka which slope around the hill leading to Kiyomizu.

Sannen-zaka
Sannen-zaka

They are some of the most ancient and atmospheric streets in Kyoto and full of old wooden houses with arts and craft shops that are showing off the best of Kyoto as well as cosy little tea-houses. But they are also dangerous if you are superstitious.

Sannen-zaka
Sannen-zaka

Ninen-zaka means slope of two years, while Sannen-zaka means slope of three years. This originally refers to the imperial years in which they were created, but nowadays it is stated that you will die within two years if you fall down on Ninen-zaka and three if you fall down on Sannen-zaka.

Ninen-zaka
Ninen-zaka

Though I pride myself not to be superstitious, I was more than usually careful as we walked down the narrow twin streets.

Ninen-zaka
Ninen-zaka

We passed the Ryozen Cannon temple with its massive 24 meter white Goddess of Mercy (Buddha) statue. The temple stands in honour of the fallen on both sides in the Pacific Wars during World War II and was built in 1955 only ten years after the war.

Ryozen Cannon temple and the Goddess of Mercy
Ryozen Cannon temple and the Goddess of Mercy

With limited time we unfortunately also passed the nearby Kodai-ji temple. Yet another beautiful Kyoto temple, it was build in 1606 in commemoration of Toyotomi Hideyoshi by his wife Nene.

Kodai-ji
Kodai-ji

Both are enshrined in the temple, which moreover features a garden made by the master himself Kobori Enshu as well as a tea house designed by Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the tea ceremony. Talk about cultural heritage.

Bamboo grove
Bamboo grove

Winding through the narrow and beautiful paths of Southern Higashiyama we made our way to Yasaka Shrine, which is one of the most famous Kyoto Shrines and stand at the border of Gion and Higashiyama.

Narrow street of South Higashiyama
Narrow street of South Higashiyama

According to legend the shrine dates back to the second year of the reign of Emperor Seimei in 656 AD and today there are around 3000 satellite shrines under Yasaka Shrine all around Japan.

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine

However, the shrine is best known for it role in the Gion Matsuri, a festival reaching back to 869 when the mikoshi from the shrine was carried through Kyoto to ward off an epidemic.

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine

The shrine stands at the end of the famous Shijō-dōri, which is the central nerve of Gion, Kyoto’s infamous geisha district.

View of Shijō-dōri from Yasaka Shrine
View of Shijō-dōri from Yasaka Shrine
Gion

Instead of walking down Shijo-dori, we followed smaller streets in our search of a bit of lunch and my afternoon appointment. We had made separate appointments for the afternoon. My boyfriend was having a shimatsu massage, while I was being dressed up as a geisha somewhere in a Gion side street.

Shimenawa hung over the entrance for New Years celebrations
Shimenawa hung over the entrance for New Years celebrations

Japan is probably the only country in the world where I don’t mind to dress up tourist style to be on display for all the other tourists. The Japanese culture supports dressing up and role playing, be it as animé characters or geisha. Even in Western Europe today you find a subculture of teenagers dressing up in Japanese outfits.

Rickshaw ride
Rickshaw ride

My transformation to maiko took place at one of several studios in Gion and alongside a host of other girls from both Japan and abroad. A maiko is a geisha in training. She is far more colourful in her kimonos than the geisha and as such a much more popular option for dressing up.

Turning into a maiko 01
Turning into a maiko 02
Turning into a maiko 03
Turning into a maiko 04
Turning into a maiko 05
Turning into a maiko 06
Turning into a maiko 07
Turning into a maiko 08
Turning into a maiko 09
Turning into a maiko 10
Turning into a maiko 11

After an hour of make-up and dress-up, I had become unrecognisable, and when my boyfriend arrived, it took him quite some time to realise that the girl standing in front of him with white face paint and a bulging kimono was me.

Near Hanamikoji-dori
Near Hanamikoji-dori

I had opted for a chance to not only have my pictures taken in the studio garden but also on a small walk through Gion. So a long with my boyfriend and a photographer and in wooden high geta (wooden sandals) I strolled through the streets of Gion posting for pictures. And oh my was it hot.

Near Hanamikoji-dori
Near Hanamikoji-dori

During the hottest and most humid time of year in the hottest and most humid part of Japan, I was covered in layers upon layers of heavy brocade. I am more than surprised that I didn’t faint.

Parked rickshaw
Parked rickshaw

But I am so very happy that I got to do it. To feel so completely like someone else for just a short period of time. My boyfriend might be completely relaxed after his massage while I have gone through torture for three hours, but I get to keep pictures.

A real maiko?
A real maiko?

As the undressing and picture waiting was almost as long as getting ready for the shoot, we decided to split up and meet later.

Japanese security guard
Japanese security guard

Flower town

I found a bit to eat while waiting before I turned towards Miyagawachō Hanamachi a neighbouring geisha district to Gion which stretches on the river edge south of Shijō-dōri.

Miyagawachō Hanamachi
Miyagawachō Hanamachi

Miyagawachō means Shrine River while Hanamachi means flower town and is the name for geisha districts. The district was granted a license for its first teahouse in 1751 and, in 2007, had 40 geiko (Kyoto name for geisha), 27 maiko and 37 teahouses, making it a very active Hanamachi.

Raining in Miyagawachō Hanamachi
Raining in Miyagawachō Hanamachi

But suddenly something happened which I would not come to experience at any other time during our trip. It began to rain. Walking through Miyagawachō it suddenly began to drizzle breaking the immense humidity and for a little while the temperature reminded one of a summer in Japan. Thank you!

Promenading on Shijo bridge
Promenading on Shijo bridge

Making a loop and returning to Shijō-dōri, I crossed the river and followed the beautiful river front north enjoying the overhanging restaurants and the many Japanese hanging out at the rivers edge.

The Kamo-gawa river front
The Kamo-gawa river front

I reached Sanjo-dori where I ventured into the only of Kyoto’s geisha districts on the west side of the river Kamo-gawa, Ponto-chō.

An alley in Ponto-chō
An alley in Ponto-chō

Ponto-chō is an alley that stretches between the Sanjo and the Shijo bridges. The name is thought to be a mix between the Portuguese name for bridge and the Japanese chō, meaning district or area. The Portuguese influence came with Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century.

The cuts of a chicken in Ponto-chō
The cuts of a chicken in Ponto-chō

Apart from being a Hanamachi, Ponto-chō is also known for its many restaurants and atmospheric settings. Many of these restaurants were the ones I’d seen with wooden structures similar to Kiyomizu’s Hinoki.

Izumo no Okuni - the first Kabuki performer
Izumo no Okuni – the first Kabuki performer

Back on the busy streets of Kyoto and reunited with my boyfriend, we found our way to Kyo no Ohesa where we had oden, a traditional Japanese winter dish.

Oden at Kyo no Ohesa in Ponto-chō
Oden at Kyo no Ohesa in Ponto-chō

After dinner we wanted to take the subway home. But with the many different subway companies in Kyoto we managed to get to the wrong station, where we waited half an hour for the train to leave the platform.

Kyoto by night
Kyoto by night

When the train finally left it turned out that the stop we thought was ours was far from it. Thus, we had to get off a few stops later to figure out a way back, deciding to walk most of the way.

Japanese youth hanging out
Japanese youth hanging out

I don’t think I’ll ever learn to use the Kyoto subway.

Day 2 – Temple count: 2, Shrine count: 1

Zofka

Kyoto: 日1

But according to the sweet older lady behind the counter, the restaurant had run out of pasta and we ended up with rice dishes instead. What are the odds!

We are on the Nozumi limited express bound for Tokyo. We are leaving behind the wonderful, culturally rich and extremely humid Kyoto.

I must admit that until we planned to go here, I only knew of Kyoto in relations to climate change and as the place for the 1995 signing of the Kyoto Protocol. I even remember doing an assignment on it in high school, but what I remember most vividly about that assignment were our issues with transferring it to a floppy disc.

But as my boyfriend has shown me these last few days, Kyoto is so much more than the name of a piece of paper, which has proven to have no real worth anyhow.

Soda machine with attached garbage can
Soda machine with attached garbage can

Kyoto was for centuries the imperial capital of Japan, but with the Meiji Restoration, which ended the era of the samurai, the imperial court moved to Edo, present day Tokyo, in 1869. However, there is no doubt that Kyoto remains the cultural capital of Japan.

History of Kyoto

To my boyfriend, Kyoto has been the ultimate dream destination and there has been no stopping him in his quest for discovering all the best known and world-heritage protected temples and shrines. While I have been unable to find an exact number, it is estimated that Kyoto has more than 1500 Buddhist temples and more than 500 Shinto shrines. After five days in Kyoto I feel as if I’ve seen most of them. Never in my life do I need to see another Shinto Shrine or Buddhist Temple. But I am getting ahead of myself.

South Kyoto street
South Kyoto street

Kyoto has served as the seat of the emperor and thus capital of Japan from 794 until 1868. That is for more than a thousand years. In European standards that would be from the time of Charlemagne until the time of Bismarck.

Modern Times
Modern Times
Our arrival

We arrived around 12 o’clock with a direct train from Kanazawa and headed for our accommodation, which was something as peculiar as a samurai restaurant not far from Nijojo (Nijo catsle). It was burning hot, the cicadas were in full song and we were drinking water a gallon a minute. Famished we decided to cross the street for a small Italian bistro called Modern Times. My boyfriend had become a bit fed up with fish and fermented veggies, and I must admit I was not too sad to be enjoying western food for once.

But according to the sweet older lady behind the counter, the restaurant had run out of pasta and we ended up with rice dishes instead. What are the odds!

Kyoto Street
Kyoto Street

Already stressed out with all that we had to see and explore during our five days in Kyoto, we ignored the humidity and walked the short way to Nijojo. Not unlike our visit to Nagoyajo and Matsumotojo, we were soon caught out in the blazing heat of the castle ground where there was no shade, and we briskly walked the grounds, while enjoying the beautiful layout of the inside. Fortunately Nijojo is only one level, so we didn’t have to climb any ridiculously tall and narrow stairs this time.

Nijo-jo
Nijo-jo
Kyoto history and Nijojo

While for centuries Japan has been an empire with an emperor the actual power has since the Genpei War which finished in 1185 (with some exceptions) been with the shogun – hereditary military dictator – and the shogunate. Off these the most famous shogunate which lasted from 1603 until 1867 has been the Tokugawa Shogunate, lead by the Tokugawa clan. While Kyoto was the imperial capital where the emperor resided, the Tokugawa clan lived in Edo, why the period is known as the Edo-period in Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate was also the last one and ended with the Meiji Restoration which also saw the move of the imperial court.

The gardens at Nijo-jo
The gardens at Nijo-jo

It is also during the reign of the Tokugawa clan that Japan was closed off from foreign trade and politics, which has made it so unique in a world where no country was left untouched by the Western industrialisation.

The building of Nijojo was ordered by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who also founded the Tokugawa Shogunate. He ordered it build in 1601 and its main parts were finished by 1603, though the castle, as it stands today, was completed during the reign of his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1626. The castle was the Tokugawa residence in Kyoto, making it a historically very significant building – to say the least.

View of Nijo-jo
View of Nijo-jo
Temple counting…

While I would have been content to end our day here, my boyfriend had other ideas and we spend the early evening visiting To-ji temple at the south side of the central station and running through Ninnja temple before it closed for the evening. As with the restaurants, the temples close early – around 5 or 6 PM, making our first evening in Kyoto a rather rushed experience. But I am pleased to have visited To-ji and to have glimpsed Ninnja.

Kondo - the main hall at To-ji Temple
Kondo – the main hall at To-ji Temple

To-ji temple, meaning East Temple, is one of Kyoto’s eldest temples. It stems from 796 and was at the time one of only two temples which were officially allowed in Kyoto – and the only one still remaining. It used to have a partner temple known as Sai-ji, which strangely enough means West Temple.

Kodo hall at To-ji Temple
Kodo hall at To-ji Temple

The two flanked the Rashomon Gate, which means the main city gate. To-ji temples ancient name Kyō-ō-gokoku-ji, meaning the The Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines indicates that the two temples were established around the city gate as protection for the new capital.

Miedo hall at To-ji Temple
Miedo hall at To-ji Temple

Today the temple is probably best known for being a temple of the Shingon School of Japanese Buddhism, whose founder Kukai in 823 became the head of To-ji temple. Kukai has after his death been more known as Kobo-Daishi and he is according to popular believes the inventor of the kana, the Japanese scripts which make up the basis of Japanese writing alongside the Chinese inspired kanji. Kana is phonetic and inspired by the Siddham script used for Sanskrit in India.

Pagoda at To-ji Temple
Pagoda at To-ji Temple

To-ji is also well known for its impressive 55 meters tall pagoda which is the tallest wood structure in Japan as well as for a famous flea market that we unfortunately missed out on.

Buddha of Kondo hall at To-ji Temple
Buddha of Kondo hall at To-ji Temple

Having set out from Kanazawa early, arrived in Kyoto, been sun struck in Nijojo and gaped at the wonders of To-ji, I was a dead woman walking, but for some inexplicable reason my boyfriend managed to convince me to walk the (not so) short distance to Nishi Hongwanji Temple. Yet another UNESCO world heritage site. They were closing up at the time of our arrival, but we managed to sneak a peak at the beautiful structure and walk the charming courtyard.

Nishi Hongwanji Temple
Nishi Hongwanji Temple

Day 1 – Temple count: 2, Castle count 1

A novice samurai
A novice samurai

Much later than I had imagined possible we returned to our accommodation for the week. As the place was a samurai bar we decided to take the easy solution and have our first dinner in Kyoto there. And I was more than pleasantly surprised. We had an absolutely wonderful meal there, experiencing a modern and sustainable taking on the Japanese kitchen.

Zofka