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Kyoto... A second perspective

Kyoto Travel Blog

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Byodo in

This is my second visit to Kyoto this year, and what a world of difference btw visiting Kyoto in January and June. In January, it was cold and muggy. In June this time round, it was hot and (dare I say humid?) rained in sporadic bursts, although not in a manner that dampened my sentiment considering the sun was still shining.

With the time contraints, my travel buddy to kyoto, josh and I decided to take a Shinkansen from Tokyo station, (obtained a few 100 yen cheaper at one of those handy discount shops that sell discount tickets for everything, ranging from movie tickets to air tickets to train and bus tickets.

Fushimi Inari-taisha
. !) to Kyoto @ 12,900 yen and to return to Tokyo via an overnight bus (with a rather lively sounding "Kira Kira Bus" company) @ a happy price of just above 5,000 yen.

Now getting to Tokyo station is easy enough, but least you are a newcomer to Japan, some caution should be taken when arranging to meet a friend.. the station is HUGE. There are multiple entrances, exits  &  ticket offices. The culimination of which, could lead to you easily wandering around for half an hour trying to locate your compadre in this multistoried labyrinth of platforms. Thats exactly what happened to me.

As a result of our delayed start, we reached Kyoto after 12pm. After wandering around for another hour north of the Kyoto station, in a futile attempt to find the Ryokan Kyoka we had reserved rooms at, we finally stopped and accosted a Gaijin couple whom, incidentally were welding the same edition of the Lonely Planet I had in my hands, to ask for directions (and failed).

Ginkakuji Temple
 After repeating the same procedure with a friendly japanese, we finally found our humble Ryokan around the block, some 10m away from the Shoen garden.  

Hence commenced our Temple pilgrimmage in chronological order.

Kyoto has 17 Designated  UNESCO World Heritage sites. Far too many and expensive to visit all of them, given that the average entry fee was around 400 yen.  Me, being the pauvre eleve/binbo gakusei/poor student - to be, picked out a few that were open to the public and of personal interest...

First up, by JR Nara line to Byodoin Temple near the city of Uji. The view of this temple from across a lake/moat of sorts  is supposedly famous and imprinted on the 10 yen coin. While the temple itself is alot smaller than I imagined, and looks rather unimpressive on its own (the reflection of the Byodoin in the waters in front is the X factor), it has a museum that quite makes up for the long journey.

Sanjusangendo
It gives a 3D simulation of the vibrant paints and colours that used to adorn the wooden exteriors and interiors that have blackened over time, and displays numberous statues including the main hall's buddha and some interesting points on artistic diversions from the norm.

From Uji, we took the Nara line back to Inari station to see the Fushimi Inari-taisha, my personal favourite. This Shrine isnt a designated world heritage site, but its free, has no closing time and is incredibly impressive -- over 4 km of Orange Tori gates lead in a winding path up a mountainous area. The complex itself has some 5 buildings and over 5000 tori gates, with stone foxes scattered across the compounds. Its dedicated to the Gods of sake and rice.

Incidentally, the fox is considered the messenger of Inari, the god of grain foods and the stone foxes are often referred to as Inari.

Toji Temple
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is the head shrine for some 40,000 Inari shrines scattered across the length and breadth of the country. Walking thru the complex and the Tori gates at dusk, is probably the best experience you can get in Kyoto after light, as it is somewhat errie walking thru these tori gates when all is quiet and nobody is around.

Our second day started late as it was raining somewhat heavily in the morning.  Our next stop was the Ginkakuji -- the silver pavilion, towards the East of Kyoto. (The one day pass costing 500 yen became our mode of transport for all our remaining travels thru Kyoto) One automatically thinks of the Golden pavilion in association, and it is said that the Ginkakuji was meant to be plated in silver in like fashion of the Kinkakuji in Gold, but it never happened in the end.

View of the Pagoda at Kiyomizudera
The site however, is pretty and does resemble its sister temple. Its sand garden is pretty intriguing. But all in all, the Ginkakuji was not as awe inspiring to my undiscerning eye as the Kinkakuji is. Then again, I'm no artist.

A short distance down south of the Ginkakuji was the Sanjusangendo. This temple's main draw is the 1001 kannon (goddess of mercy) in the central hall, which stands for 33 spaces between the columns. Flanked by 500 Kannon statues made of cyprus on its left and right lined up in 10 rows and 500 columns, the central kanon makes the last of the 1000 kannon. Quite a sight, to have such a multitude of Kannon standing within one compound.

Our next stop was the Toji temple, a 57m 5 story tall pagoda, supposedly Japan's tallest. The Toji was a short walk south west of the Kyoto Central station.

Kiyomizudera Temple
Interestingly, given its height, it was burned down 4 times after being struck by lightening. (One wonders if they have given to installing a lightening rod to prevent a recurrance.) The pagoda is set in a beautiful garden, which makes for a very scenic landscape. The Main hall and Lecture hall also hold an impressive array of Buddhist statues. I particularly liked this Pagoda and think it is worth a visit.

Kiyomizudera, is of course a sight that nobody should miss. The temple leans out onto 13m high wooden platforms, and many a japanese have flung themselves (perhaps as an alternative to seppuku) over these platforms, forcing the government to install a law prohibiting suicide by jumping over these platforms. While i cannot understand the rationale of doing so, which assumes that suicidal lemmings would observe the law despite having lost regard for their lives, it probably works in Japan given the "community above individual" mentality that prevails.

Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion
But I digress... The kiyomizudera features a few sub shrines that are somewhat unique, including one where you can find out if you will succeed in love by walking blindfold from one stone to another that is 10ms away. Other interesting things include little shrines where you can write your troubles on a piece of paper and dissolve them in water to free yourself from them. (at a nominal cost of 200 yen, for the paper, perhaps?)

Chionin, the lonely planet says is designed to impress. And it surely does, with its massive front gates that would imply equally massive temples on the site. While it is certainly large, its unfortunate that there isnt very much else to see in terms of the buddhist artifacts. There are two smaller gardens that charge an admission fee and the compounds have a rather intriguing "7 wonders of Chionin" (eg, a large wooden scoop, which represents the salvation of Budhha, a Nightingale hallway that squeaks to sabotage assasins) but with most of them closed off to the public, and the gardens looking rather dismal and neglected, these side attractions turn out more to be side distractions than anything else.

Ryoan-ji Zen Rock Garden
Overall, while the Chionin may turn out to be successful when the restoration works are complete, I would not take the time out to visit this temple at this point if I had only a few days in Kyoto.

We deliberately chose to see the most ostentatious temple the Kinkakuji as one of our last stops. The Kinkakiji is probably one of the best maintained temples -- no doubt its all that glitters and shines, but the surrounding garden is beautiful and frames the temple in a very flattering manner. Certainly, its hard to find an equivalent temple in Japan, and its hard to justify not visiting this temple.

Lastly, the Ryoan ji was our final destination, having heard so much about its rock garden that consists of 15 rocks, no trees and no plants. It is surrounded by walls made of clay boiled in oil, which eventually seeped out, hence forming the interesting patterns on the walls resembling badly made marble cake.

Chionin Temple Front gate
This rock garden is supposedly the quintessense of Zen art. Apparently its simplicity provokes one to meditate. Certainly, you do end up questioning the rationale behind this rock garden. Why 15 stones? Why are they placed the way they are? Although frankly, its begs the question... Why bother to ask??

A side stop by Gion revealed a side street -- Hanami Koji -- that still retained some semblence to olden Geisha houses and should be worth a visit for anyone who hasnt yet seen a Geisha or maiko as these streets are definitely lovely in architecture and give you a sense of what Japan used to be.

And that was the culmination of my visit to Kyoto. After visiting up to 9 of the key recommended sites in Kyoto, I came out feeling relatively satisfied that I had seen some of the best sights of Kyoto (albeit it would have been prettier during the cherry blossem period).

Gion, Hanami- Koji

 

 

lukeulele says:
Great Blog! I'll be sure to take a wonder to a few of these temple's. THANKS :D
Posted on: Jan 07, 2011
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Byodo in
Byodo in
Fushimi Inari-taisha
Fushimi Inari-taisha
Ginkakuji Temple
Ginkakuji Temple
Sanjusangendo
Sanjusangendo
Toji Temple
Toji Temple
View of the Pagoda at Kiyomizudera
View of the Pagoda at Kiyomizudera
Kiyomizudera Temple
Kiyomizudera Temple
Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion
Ryoan-ji Zen Rock Garden
Ryoan-ji Zen Rock Garden
Chionin Temple Front gate
Chionin Temple Front gate
Gion, Hanami- Koji
Gion, Hanami- Koji
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photo by: ys484