Monday, January 13, 2014

KYOTO, JAPAN: 1000 Shrines and Temples

Heian Shrine, Kyoto
In July of 1995, I accompanied Art to Kyoto, Japan, where he was attending a conference. Kyoto is renowned for its beautiful shrines and temples and on our first afternoon we did a walking tour of several of them.  We first went to the Heian Shrine, famous for its gardens.  On our way out, two uniformed school girls stopped us and asked if they could interview us–obviously an English class assignment.  One question was, “Do you know any Japanese words?” and they giggled when Art rattled off the few phrases that he knew.

Bamboo.  Path to Shoren-in Temple
We continued southward until the street narrowed and we came to the Shoren-in Temple, surrounded by enormous one thousand year old camphor trees and a beautiful ancient garden covered in moss.  By the time we reached the next stop–Chion-in Temple–it was 5:00 and the temple was closed.  The “walking tour”, described on the map as taking 50 minutes, was clearly much longer as we were not even half way to the Kiyomizu Temple at the end.

The next afternoon I took a bus to the Golden Temple (Kinkakuji).  By the time I got there the sky was overcast and as I walked in I could hear thunder.  I walked around the paths, which were shaded by a canopy of beautiful large maple trees, and arrived at the lake where the temple, covered on the top two floors with gold leaf, stood like a shining island.

Offerings at Kiyomizu Temple
Another day Art and I caught a bus to the Kiyomizu Temple–one of the most famous in Kyoto.  One walks up a narrow road–called Teapot Lane because of many pottery shops–past all kinds of tourist shops, many of them selling bean paste candies.  We bought some small round cakes–like pancakes with sweet bean paste in the center.  They are cooked on a machine in which metal rings about three inches across move around a griddle and are then filled and flipped before the cakes slide down a chute to be packaged.  We ate our picnic lunch at the entrance to the shrine–under a huge orange Tori gate.  The temple is perched on the side of a hill and is supported by huge interlocking timbers–no nails.  Unlike at other temples, we were allowed to take off our shoes and walk inside the building.

Water cups at Kiyomizu Temple
We then walked along a path to a small pagoda on the other side of the hill and then down past a small waterfall where people held out long bamboo sticks with cups on the end.  (The water was meant for cleansing the mouth, not drinking.)  As at the other temples, we saw rows of paddles with writing on them and white paper “wishes”.  Monks from the temple, wearing long black robes covered by a sort of overcoat, walked around the temple grounds in wooden clogs.
Kyoto claims to have more than 1000 shrines and temples.  We only saw a few, but found each one different and interesting and in harmony with nature.
Stepping Stones at the Heian Shrine


Sebastian Chuter said...

I feel jumping now and pack my clothes to see the beauty of Japan. We currently on vacation here in Hawaii and planning to visit China next month. We will probably visit Japan after China. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos! - Gazebo and Bali Hut Super Store

Henry Thomas said...

Amazing pictures, what a beautiful place

henry thomas

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