Published: March 16th 2009March 16th 2009
Yasaka Shrine, Chionin Temple, Sanjusangendo temple and Kiyomuzudera Shrine
My note for 23 Feb. also consists of a single line :
“Charu does the Kyoto sightseeing on her own”.
The day was cloudy and rainy, I mean drizzly. In our experience, it does not rain like the Mumbai monsoon downpour in Japan. Of course, our experience is limited to the days between 19 Feb and 2nd March.
After the breakfast, Avi went for his conference and I took the shuttle to Yasaka shrine in the Gion area.
Gion is a very “interesting” area, though, as I walked down the shop-lined road to the Yasaka Shrine, I was unaware of its significance. All I was looking for were the kimono shops and there are a quite a few kimono shops on the street. However, the shops selling trendy, modern clothes outnumbered the kimono shops.
Majority of Japanese women nowadays wear modern, ‘western’ type of clothes. The only kimono-clad ladies we had seen, were hosting the conference in our own hotel. (Generally, at every conference, the female hotel staff is made to wear traditional dresses. At a conference in Mumbai, the female hotel staff would be
wearing nine-yard sarees and a typical ‘nath’. (a nose-ornament.)
However, I saw a number of kimono-clad ladies walking on the road to the Yasaka Shrine and drew a parallel with Indian ladies in my mind that probably they were wearing traditional dresses because they were going to pray at the Yasaka shrine. Typically, Indian ladies wear traditional dresses when they go to a temple.
But, when I entered the Yasaka shrine, those kimono-clad ladies were conspicuous by their absence. Where were they going if not to the shrine?
I found the answer much later when I read that Gion is Kyoto’s most famous ‘geisha’ district.
The colorful, orange-and-white Yasaka shrine is a small but a very important shrine in Kyoto.
From Yasaka, I decided to walk to the Chionin Temple along the back road and not along the main street.
It was a beautiful walk along the quiet, tree-lined avenue.
The main gate of the Chionin temple is in total contrast to the highly colorful Yasaka shrine because it is in dark, polished wood, probably in keeping with the Jodo sect’s simple way of living. All the same, the tall, somber structure is very
impressive. Its huge bell is equally impressive.
The only thing I have against it is that you have to climb a large number of steps to reach it.
I wish they would install an escalator on the steps.
From Chionin Temple, again I took the beautiful back road to our hotel and surfaced in the hustle and bustle of Jingu Michi.
I wanted to shop for a kimono but I found that all the shop-fronts were closed. This made it difficult to know whether the shop was open or closed, till I found that the ‘open’ shops display a small, obscure sign outside the door in the shape of a lantern.
Encouraged by a lantern outside a shop I entered a shop that displayed a mannequin outside draped with a beautiful kimono.
I saw the kimono and fell in love with it. It was in my favorite color too, pale peach with self-design and beautifully printed with a typical Japanese theme - kimono-clad ladies doing the tea-ceremony in a cherry-blossom garden with snow-covered Mount Fuji in the background.
Many a Japanese kimono is actually a painting woven in silk and generally a ‘Work
of Art’. It costs also about as much.
So, I was highly surprised when the owner told me the price - a mere 2000 yen - while silk kimonos do not come under 5500 ten.
I tried it on but it was a bit tight for me. I decided to buy the kimono and then go on a weight-loss program immediately.
I must be an incurable optimist because the failures of similar weight-loss programs in the past, have never deterred me from believing in a future, slimmer me.
As we were in Kyoto for two more days and the shop was quite near to our hotel, I told the owner that I would come the next day and buy it after consulting my husband. She kept the kimono aside.
There must have been a gap in our communication because the owner was talking in Japanese and I in English, because I found that the shop remained stuttered up for the next two days.
I just did not get an opportunity to buy that kimono again. I still rue the lost opportunity but how could I foresee that the shop would remain closed for the
two days that we were in Kyoto?
Anyway, I came back to the hotel and crashed in the bed. I was that tired.
Avi came back from the conference early that day and we decided to see two more shrines that day.
We took the 2:15 hotel-shuttle to Kyoto station and then tried to find the ‘Raku’ bus stop. To our chagrin, we found that it was on the opposite side of the Kyoto station and you have to walk miles to reach it. Kyoto is a very large station.
Anyway, we bought one-day bus-passes and boarded the bus for Sanjusangendo shrine.
Sanjusangendo must be a highly interesting and instructive temple to every Indian tourist. “Interesting”, because it houses the 1000 life-sized statues of the Goddess of Mercy ‘Kannon’. ( ‘life-sized’ by Japanese standard. Average height of Japanese men is 5” 5’ and Japanese women is 5” 1’.) Instructive because the 28 Japanese deities that stand before the 1000 statues are supposed to be representing our own gods from the Indian mythology - Varun, Vayu, Garuda etc. but they have undergone such a transformation that it is difficult to recognize them. In fact, we would
not have known that they represent the Indian deities but for the information written in English before each deity.
I mean have you ever heard of Garuda being a God of music and seen it playing a flute? Can you imagine a ‘vajrapani’ i.e. Indra with a bald pate? Only the ‘Vayu’ image was somewhat corresponding to our idea, which showed a man with a big bulging bag on his shoulders, in which he had presumably imprisoned the strong winds.
Even the main deity which is supposed to be ‘Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokitesvara’, has turned into a ‘Thousand-armed Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy’.
Avi could not take photos inside the temple because it was not allowed, but I found a link which shows the interior of the temple. Have a look at the 1000 wooden Kannons and the 28 metallic deities before them.
Bemused by this Japanese interpretation of Indian Gods, we boarded the 100 Raku bus for Kiyomizudera temple.
(The ‘Dera’ part in Kiyomizudera sounds like the one in ‘Baba Nanak Dera’ and probably has the same connotation.)
Kiyomizudera is shrine on a hill and you have to walk a steep path for 15
minutes before you come to it. However, the climb is made pleasant by the shopping along the street.
Watching the sunset from its wooden terrace is a sublime experience and perhaps that is why it remains open till 6:00 PM even in winter while other shrines close at 4:30 PM.
Watching the sunset from the terrace was fine but then we saw from the other side that the terrace was precariously supported by wooden trestles and had tilted to one side. That sight sure gave me heebie-jeebies.
Right at the entrance to the shrine we met the Indian contingent for the conference that had taken the ‘Kyoto-Darshan’ bus, including Mr. N. S., who informed me that they could get decent kimonos at the Kyoto Handicrafts Center. I decided to visit the Center the next day as it was near our hotel.
After the sunset, we walked down the steep street and waited for the 100 Raku bus which would take us to our hotel.
We waited and waited and waited. No ‘100 Raku bus’ ever came in our direction but there were a lot of buses going in the opposite direction.
It was already
dark and it started to drizzle.
For the 100th time Avi asked me how come there was no ‘100 Raku bus’ in our direction, to which I had no answer.
At last he checked the brochure of ‘100 Raku’ bus in his hand and to my consternation, showed me that the last ‘100 Raku’ bus was at 4:30 PM.
So, how to reach our hotel now?
My mind started working overtime for alternatives. Why not take the bus on the opposite side and go to Kyoto station?
Avi was still shaken and nonplused.
“But how are we going to our hotel from the station when the buses have stopped?” he asked.
“Oh, that is simple. The subways are still running till midnight.”
Avi visibly relaxed. That plan was doable and that is what exactly we did. We took an overcrowded bus to Kyoto station, ate at the McDonald’s and took the subway home.
Our Kyoto sightseeing was essentially over.
However, before going to bed, I resolved to write a strongly worded letter to the city of Kyoto which runs the ‘Raku’ buses for tourists’ convenience. How come they stop the
100 Raku bus at 4:30 PM when Kiyomizudera remains open till 6:00 PM and all the tourists congregate there for sunset?
Moreover, the ‘100 Raku’ bus timings are not available on the Internet.