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Published: March 18th 2014
First go-shuin of the day.
Monday, March 17th
The Kyoto Marathon
There’s just so much to do in Kyoto, I wanted to make one more trip and sweep up everything I missed. I planned a loop around the city, stopping at all the major sites I missed as well as some of the minor ones. I left Kure around six-something in the morning, scheduled to arrive at Kyoto around 9:00.
On the shinkansen over, I studied Japanese using some of the books that the JET program gave Ellen. I got so in to it that my stop came soon so I packed my things and got off the train. Once off, I realized that I forgot something important – the hat that Auntie Leslie made me! That hat has been the official hat of this trip. I’ve worn it everywhere and it has kept me warm in the winter air. Even when I fell asleep on the train, I managed to hold on to it, but it must have fallen from my lap when I was studying, the time I’m most oblivious to the world.
I rushed back onto the train and hadn’t found it when the train
Silhouetted in the early morning haze behind a veil of drooping branches.
lurched forward to the next station. I took a seat and thought that I had both lost the hat and gone on an unnecessary side tour. As we approached the next station, I decided to look once more, and I saw it on the floor far under the seat I was sitting. I was able to retrieve it and I made it off the train and right back onto another going to Kyoto. This was a good start to my day, though, as it reminded me that even if I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do, it was all icing on the cake. I wasn’t losing anything by not getting to do everything.
Compared to all the places I had looked into visiting, even though I didn’t think I would get them all, I only made it about a quarter of the loop. Each of Kyoto’s areas could be a day in itself, there’s just so much there. But at the end of the day, I was still very happy with how much I had done. I went non-stop all day, not even breaking for lunch. I realized when I got on the train home that all I
Shrine in front of Tojo-ji, just outside temple complex.
had eaten was a Cliff Bar all day, though I had a vending machine soda and milk tea, too, which probably had a lot of burnable sugar. I managed to get seven go-shuin, which tell the story of my day.
The first stop I made was Tojo Temple, just about a ten-minute walk from Kyoto Station. It’s famous for its towering pagoda, which seemed enormous and hazy in the early morning light. I stopped in a display hall where they had tapestries, some fore sale, and a display of some giant statues of humanlike figures, perhaps bodhisattvas. I got my Go-Shuin from a wizened older man who said very little. I looked around the grounds, but admittedly soon left on a bus to the next site, determined to see as much as I could.
After that, I stopped by Tofukuji again, this time while it was open, and I got to walk across the bridge and admire the zen gardens. Away from the hustle of the city, I began to slow down and enjoy my time. I got to listen to a musical ceremony the monks performed while sitting outside in the
Stone statues inside. I got my go-shuin here.
sun, watching a zen garden. It was a very peaceful atmosphere, and it cooled my mind and set the pace for the day. I would do as much as I could, but I would take my time and enjoy it.
After walking back to the bus stop, I decided I would just walk to some of the smaller temples listed but not pictured on the map. Since they usually are not major tourist destinations, it’s really a gamble what you will find. When the temples are open, they are often less crowded and can be really great finds. Occasionally they are closed, as was one of the two I visited in this area.
However the other was a very beautiful temple with large, colorful flags waving from the buildings. The grounds had no admittance fee and were quite nice, with some plum blossoms in bloom. A mother and daughter asked me to take their picture and I did. I was a little worried they thought I was being strange as I talked to them while I took the picture so as I gave the camera back I explained that I don’t really
Returned to visit while open. The temple is on two sides of a gorge, connected by this bridge.
speak Japanese. They were surprised (and maybe relieved that I just wasn’t a weirdo) and said that I spoke well, which was kind if not true.
After looking around, I stopped by a small, one-man hut where I got my go-shuin. The calligrapher was a very pleasant man and talked to me for a bit. He asked where I was from and, when he found out, he kicked in the English, “Sorry, I don’t speak English.” In Japanese, I joked with him, “Well, this is Japan.” He seemed humored by this, and it was nice to express to someone that I didn’t expect them to speak English for me. We had a very nice Japanese-English hybrid conversation where he asked me about my trip and my studies. Only being able to communicate basically leaves the mind for want in actually expressing feeling, and it was nice to have a real conversation again with a stranger. When it was time to go, I left his booth feeling brighter.
One of Kyoto’s world heritage sites, Kiyomizu is build on the side of a hill and hangs over the edge on a stilted support. From
Upper and lower bridges cross over this gorge.
behind the temple, on the bridge, is the famous view of this structure, and they say it is particularly beautiful in spring and autumn. There is also a shrine for lovers attached and accessible through the temple complex, making it a popular destination for couples. The whole site seemed popular when I went, completely packed with people. As high schools are on their two-week vacation between school years, I’ve noticed a bit more traffic during the week.
Going from the temple to the shrine, the latter which seems a side exhibit of the temple, there is a noticeable difference between the dark clothes and rich wood of Buddhism to the white robes and red and white paint of Shinto. For the most part, Buddhist and Shinto sites have different aesthetics and customary patterns from what I’ve experienced, but there seems to be some crossover and overall coexistence between the two.
Jodo Shinshu in Japan, though, is a bit removed from all this. On the way up to Kiyomizu, I stopped by a Jodo Shinshu temple and offered oshoko. Compared to other places, Jodo Shinshu temples are non-commercialized and seem to be places of community rather than pilgrimage. At
Tofuku-ji Upper Bridge
This is the one you have to pay to go across. Beautiful zen gardens on the other side.
the Jodo Shinshu temple, I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. I’ve been carrying around my ojuzu on this trip since I planned on visiting temples, but I found that the commercial atmosphere of many of the places makes meditation difficult. At the Jodo Shinshu temple, though, it was just a bunch of families and I had a moment to be at peace and think about grandma.
Overall, my experience at Kiyomizu and in getting there was one that explored the pluralism of the religious experience in Japan. There is mysticism in the blended Buddhist-Shinto pantheism as well as secular Buddhist philosophy that seem to coexist simultaneously in this land of rich religious tradition.
My next stop was another small temple only labeled on the map. It turned out to be a beautiful and tranquil zen temple, which was nice compared to the hustle of Kiyomizu. I left my shoes at the entrance and my goshuin-chuo with the calligrapher and walked around the temple, taking time to enjoy the garden and display rooms with painted screens and old wooden furniture.
Two old wooden staircases behind the first building
Looking down the scenic bridge.
led to an overlook and to a large hondo with a splendid altar. Like most places, photography was forbidden in building interiors, but there were a few places for photography along the raised walkways connecting the buildings.
This stop was about taking a chance and then taking time to enjoy it. There was time to listen to the trickling fountain that poured water onto a line of bamboo rods, making instrumental sounds supposed to be reminiscent of the koto. There was time to sit and observe the zen garden and appreciate its beauty. While I didn’t spend hours there, I did lose track of the passage of time, which allowed me to appreciate it more.
Enshrining a royal family, the Heian Shrine sits within metropolitan Kyoto, near the art museum and the zoo. The main road to get there goes through a huge tori, that cars and busses pass under. While I had been on a bus that passed through before, I ended up walking from my last site, and walked past the zoo, where I spotted the elephant, giraffe, and some flamingos as I passed. Kids were playing baseball in
One of the main buildings at the temple complex.
the park nearby and people bustled through the busy city square, enshrining in its own way the virtue of public works. While the shrine may have been for a long-ago royal family, it seems to have changed with the times and is now sits in an accessible and beloved public place.
Catching a bus as the sun got low in the horizon, I realized that I would not get much further than Shimogamo Shine, located just north of the heart of the city. It was located along a long greenbelt along the river. As most shrines and temples close around 4:30, I didn’t know if it would still be open was happy to find that it was. I spent the golden hour looking around the shrine and walking through the greenbelt. After the crowded bus rides was very nice to be able to stroll along a tranquil greenbelt in the heart of a bustling metropolis. It was a reminder that serenity need not be found only in places of solitude.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
After catching a very packed bus back to Kyoto station, I caught the
Looking down at the small stream below.
local Nara line to Fushimi Inari just as the sun set. I was told that this is a must-see in Kyoto, and I was not disappointed. I even got a go-shuin, despite it being around 7:00 (known as 19:00 here). The shrine pays respect to foxes and apparently inari sushi is a favorite of foxes. But what really makes this a landmark is the hike under a tunnel of tori up into the mountains. At night, the tunnel was light only by the occational lanturn, but there were still a number of people out.
When I got to a lake up on the mountain, I stopped and took some long-exposure pictures from a stone wall overlooking the lake. A cat sat nearby and watched me, so I took some pictures of it as well. I watches as the stars came out over the lake and it truly was a beautiful sight. Feeling full from life, I witnessed the birth of the night from a tranquil lake in the mountains.
Well, that was my Kyoto marathon. I didn’t get back to Hiroshima until around 11:00, though, which was not too bad because Ellen went to dinner with
View of lower bridge from upper bridge.
her friends in Hiroshima after work. It was such a rich day, that it took an effort to just overview my memories from the day.
If you’ve been reading these, they are often written on the shinkansen and they haven’t been proofread, so sorry for any mistakes. As for pictures, I have my phone pictures up, but I have not been able to locate an adapter to get photos off the card. I’m sorry about this, but when they come there will be a flood of them that I will put with their respective days. Well, now I only have 4% battery without a charger, so it’s time to say goodnight.
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