Day 9 of Japan: Kyoto: Castles, and Temples, and Shrines (and Malls), oh my!

Today we hit a number of temples, shrines, and other attractions in Kyoto. We now just updated with some travelogue text — read on for details accompanying the pictures!

After spending a bit of money on public transportation the previous day, and finding out that the Kyoto subway isn’t anywhere near as good as the Tokyo subway, today we decided it’d be good to look into the well-known Kyoto bus system. We made our way to the Kyoto Station to look into it (we had arrived here from Tokyo, but were too busy/tired to look at much). The first five pictures are of the top of the station — it’s supposed to be very futuristic-looking in design, and it kind of is, but it also is a bit of an eye-sore (which was one of the complaints when it was first created). There’s lots of scaffolding going up to a high ceiling (reminded me some of the Denver International Airport elaborate mountain-like ceiling design). Also, on one side of the station is a mountain of stairs and, luckily, escalators, but they really don’t go to much… there are some shops and restaurants, but nothing opens until 11AM (and we got there early, hungry for breakfast). So, kind of a strange design. But, we got a $5 all-day bus pass, which saved us lots of money, and found out that the Kyoto bus system is pretty awesome and you can get to just about anywhere at all in town using it. So, hoorray, less sore feet for us! After getting the passes, we set out for many exciting Kyoto destinations:

* The Nijo Castle. In short, this castle was created in 1603 for the Tokugawa Shogunate — all feudal lords in Western Japan were forced to contribute to its creation. Parts of it were destroyed by fire over the years and much of the existing structures were imported from other areas. Like the Imperial Gardens we saw in Tokyo, it is also surrounded by a big, stone-enforced moat, thick with koi. We couldn’t actually take pictures of inside the castle, as they were not permitted, but took several of the beautiful surrounding gardens and architecture. The first several pictures (after the Kyoto station) are of an entry gate and the beautiful animal designs on it. There’s a picture of Teisha standing outside of the castle. Some observations:

* Honestly, it’s still hard for us to call it a “castle” because we’re so used to the European sense of the word — this looked nothing like a European castle, of course, but it is a very fancy Japanese building (of course) with nature scenes painted on all the inside paper walls, to give you a watered-down idea of it.
* One really neat feature of the castle is the “nightingale floor” — basically, wherever you walk on the corridors (even barefoot) the floors squeak quite audibly. This is a real feature of the castle and is due to planned spaces and cramps between the floor boards — we took a picture of the explanation in our pamphlet. Quite a neat creation.
* The next 20-some pictures after the nightingale floor image (until the picture on the bus) are all of the Nijo Castle and its beautiful garden grounds. Some of the most beautiful ponds we’ve seen yet were here. There’s also a neat shot comparing old and new bamboo walls — hard to imagine it all looked that new once! And, of course, the koi are quite friendly.

After Nijo Castle we hopped on the bus again and went across town to Kiyomizudera Temple, a hill-side Buddhist temple known for it’s beautiful views of the city and surrounding forest and its 13 meter wooden support structure. Though the temple was originally made in 798AD, the current structures are from 1633 (I’m guessing they burned in a fire, as we’ve been finding many wooden structures in Kyoto have done over the years). The pictures of the temple area start at Andrew standing under a red temple building (the picture before this is of part of the long road of repetitive tourist shops that thickly line the steep road leading to the temple). Some pictures of note:

* The temple is indeed very showy and offers beautiful views of the cityscape and forest.
* There’s a picture of Teisha in front of a rack of prayers — followers write their prayers and they are hung on the board.
* There’re pictures of Andrew washing his hands with a cup in a dragon fountain — it’s a ritual cleansing practice.
* There are pictures of followers praying to an unseen Buddha statue. For a small fee, you can enter the main part of the temple, where sacred relics are kept, and light a candle offering. We went inside, but couldn’t take pictures. The most important relic is a very old, large Buddha statue that is in front of where the worshipers are praying.
* There is a picture of stone dolls with red hats and aprons on — this is a memorial to miscarried babies and people who have drowned. We later saw several similar kinds of memorials when we went to Koyasan (days 10 and 11).
* We had a tasty lunch at a restaurant on the temple grounds — it was surprisingly reasonable and quite filling. We both had the same (noodles with tofu) but Andrew had sobe and Teisha had udon.

Very much in the Japanese style, there are Shinto shrines inside the temple area grounds. The largest Shinto shrine there is the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the God of love and “good matches,” and it was probably there at least as long as the temple has been there. The shrine pictures we took start at the one talking about writing your troubles on a paper doll and dissolving them in the water. The famous love stones are also at this shrine — if you can close your eyes and walk safely between two stones 18 meters apart (with stairs past either one!), they say you’ll find your love. Since we already found each other, we didn’t do it, though we did play with the idea, and had fun watching other people try it (with aids). The three pictures after the close-up of the Love game instructions are of the same Shinto shrine or nearby smaller Shinto shrines.

We then hopped on the bus again to another Buddhist temple, the Sanjusangen-do temple. While not as big and not as impressive externally as the Kiyomizudera temple, the Sanjusangen-do temple is famous for its thousand life-size statues of the Buddha Kannon. Though, again, we could not take pictures, there are some here. All statues were constructed between the 1100s and 1200s AD. Though the bodies are virtually the same, there are distinct differences between the faces of the thousand statues. They all stand on the left or right of a central Buddha Kannon statue, which is basically the same as the other statues but much, much bigger. Possibly more interesting are the 28 statues of guardian entities which stand in the front of the thousand life-size Kannon statues, with 14 to the left and right of the main large statue. This temple was really interesting because there were actually very good English descriptions/explanations for all of the 28 guardian entities, not to mention the complete awe-inspiring presence of the thousand+ statues and all the work that went in to creating them. It was also neat to see how the building foundation was created to avoid damage due to earthquakes — there are carefully laid-out alternating layers of dirt and wood logs under the building that work (somehow) to help reduce the impact of earthquakes, preserving the amazing collection of statues. (The pictures of these grounds are the one before the big orange gate, the orange gate, and the two pictures afterward — not too showy on the outside.)

Though we were feeling a bit worn-out sight-seeing wise, we hopped on the bus once again and headed for our last touristy stop for the day: the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine. From the bus stop, the climb up the road is covered (again) with tourist shops.. and some frequented railroads. The Shinto shrine itself starts at the main red gate (there’s a picture of Teisha under it) — this is the standard Shinto gate, or “torii.” This shrine is dedicated to the Inari god, now the god of business but originally the goddess of rice, and the foxes depicted are messengers for Inari. The shrine was started in 711AD and has been added to ever since — businesses donate the torii. The amazing thing about this shrine is the number of torii — there are tens of thousands of these gates that lead up the hill to more sacred shrines. We didn’t make it that far (it was getting dark), but we did go through the first few groups of the gates and see a lot of interesting shrines.

Since it was getting dark and everything was closing, we headed for Shin-kyogoku shopping arcade again (we went there on Day 8). This time we took more pictures — the last 11 pictures for today are of that area. Of particular note:
* We had a great tonkatsu (fried pork trips) dinner at Katsukura, recommended by both Lonely Planet and a friend. While it was tucked away (a secret hidden path down a very narrow alley!), it indeed had great tonkatsu! (They also make you grind your own fresh sesame seeds for a fresh tonkatsu sauce.)
* We took a picture of the store front of the store with the figurines we talked about in Day 8 — if you’re interested, it’s called “Super Position.”
* Not pictured — again, lots of claw machine fun!

Random Kyoto observations:
* After the pictures of the Kiyomizudera Temple, there is a picture of a common sight at bus stops here — often there is an automatically, real-time updated sign that shows, visually, what buses are coming and how close they are at that moment. Quite neat.
* There are really a lot of little Shinto shrines all over Kyoto — they’re often just tucked on the side of a road, well-protected but not usually labeled. After the Inari Shrine pictures, and after a train picture, there is a picture of a road and across it is a little Shinto shrine — the next picture is a close-up showing it better. They really just blend in.

Stay tuned for tomorrow — to Koyasan, the mountain of Buddhist temples and the largest cemetery in Japan!


3 Responses to “Day 9 of Japan: Kyoto: Castles, and Temples, and Shrines (and Malls), oh my!”

It’s gotten to where viewing your daily photo sets has become a part of my routine. It’ll suck when you stop posting them.

Colin - May 28th, 2009 at 11:30 am

Thanks, Colin (and other commenters). It’s nice to know our efforts are being appreciated!

Paradoxdruid - May 29th, 2009 at 6:14 am

[…] then headed for a shrine we’d seen before — the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but we […]

Paradoxdruid’s Rants » Blog Archive » Day 12 of Japan: Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion, Manga Museum, and more Kyoto - June 4th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

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