Kyoto: Temples and Shrines

Temples! So many temples! Almost 18 km of walking in over 9 hours, and a large chunk of that around and in between temples in the Southern and Northern Higashiyama areas.

kiyoWe started about 7:30am and caught the subway to Kyoto station, then a bus to Gojo-zaka on the western edge of the city. From there it was a walk up a hill to the Buddhist temple of Kiyomizu-dera. We thought it would be relatively peaceful that early in the day, but already there were swarms of yellow- and white-capped schoolchildren led by shrill, loud young women holding little flags, and it was as far from peaceful as one can imagine. Still, it was a huge and spectacular temple, with a wide wooden verandah, 13 metres high, affording a fantastic view over the hills.

As is often the case, the temple was a theme park for the superstitious, and in this case there was even a ‘sideshow alley’ of ridiculous little luck rituals and lots of insanely specific charms to buy: ‘Find Love’ 500 yen, ‘More Chance for Love’ 1,000 yen, ‘Traffic Safety’ 500 yen. You can pat statues for luck and walk between stones with your eyes closed to find love. Nothing like wishful thinking and throwing your money away to keep those temples profitable!

One of the theme park rides that we did try however (for 100 yen), was symbolically entering the womb of a female Bodhisattva. Or, for the non-monks among us, walking very slowly through a pitch-dark basement corridor, one hand on a railing, until you find a softly lit stone on which you place your hands and make a wish. I expected to tumble down a slippery slide or have a monk dressed in a skeleton costume jump out at me and shout “oogly boogly!” at any moment.

Back in the sunlight, we strolled northwards through very picturesque, if somewhat touristy lanes, pretty quiet once we’d left the main drag leading up to the temple, which was like a cattle run on show day.

We eventually made it to Maruyama Park, had a quick look at the Yasaka shrine (where we noticed a poster on a wall for the sumo event we’re attending tomorrow), then headed north to Chion-in temple. The main building was under wraps for restoration, but after refuelling on a couple of huge biscuit-and-icecream things from a vending machine, we wandered through a very nice quiet temple area situated up some steep stone stairs at the back of the main temple (the first moments of quiet and peace we’d experienced all day), and then back down to the huge main entrance gate.

Onwards to Shoren-in, another shrine which we really enjoyed as it was more peaceful and relaxed. It was much smaller, and built around an intimate garden with a small pool; more like a private house than a temple. We sat there for a while and contemplated the garden.

By this time we were very hungry and we hadn’t yet found anywhere for lunch, so after a further walk we bought sandwiches, drinks and nibbles and sat on the front lawn area of the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art to eat. Then we walked along the nearby canal and eventually reached Nanzen-ji temple. This featured a spectacular gate which we could enter and climb to a balcony level with a wonderful view, but the experience was ruined by a damn leaf blower going full bore in the nearby grounds. Yep, a leaf blower at a Zen Buddhist temple – goodbye all chance at peaceful appreciation of the beauty of the area. May the inventor of leaf blowers burn in hell for all eternity.

We explored some more of the temple grounds (which include a strange Roman-style aqueduct), but we were getting tired and a bit annoyed with the crowds, so moved on to the last temple of the day, Eikan-do. This smaller temple complex has a very pretty garden and the autumnal colours were beginning to appear, so it was a lovely end to the day. We found a quiet spot up some steps by a small pagoda, where we sat and looked out across the treetops to the city. After padding around the temple buildings in our socks for a while, it was time to call it a day so we caught a couple of buses back to Kyoto station, then the subway two stops to the station nearest our hotel.

After showering and relaxing for a bit, we headed out again after dark and found a tiny vegetarian restaurant called Biotei: just a counter and a few tables in a little room on the second floor of a little building on a back street corner. Carol really enjoyed her fried tofu, and my chicken and salad was somewhat less interesting; but the quality was good.

We walked back to the hotel through back streets. A long, satisfying day. Tomorrow – SUMO!

By the way – TOURISTS! They are very annoying. Poorly dressed (why do people travelling wear tight blue jeans?), grumpy, never bothering to learn a word of Japanese, standing in the way of flows of people, talking too loudly in braying voices. We hate tourists, and try to act like them as little as possible!

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