24-26 November 2014
Kansai is hands down the best region in Japan. It contains almost half of the world heritage sites in Japan. It feels far more Japanese than Tokyo (overrated) as it offers a nice concentration of nature, culture and history. Kyoto has always been on my list. Any modern city with no history fails to engage me. The last thing I would do is to waste my time in a non-Japanese city when I’m in Japan.
With 1.5 million people, Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. There are over 2000 religious places as well as palaces and gardens.
I walked around and visited various temples. I basically followed the Kyoto Map and hopped from Temple to Temple. Kyoto is colourful thanks to the autumn leaves.
Ryōan-ji (500Y), the Zen temple along with its zen garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”). The stones in the garden are arranged in a way where regardless from which angle, only 14 boulders are visible at one time. They say that by attaining enlightenment, one can see the fifteenth boulder.
Nijō Castle (600Y), in the middle of the city is a flatland castle consisting of two rings of fortifications, palaces, buildings, halls and gardens. It was completed in 1626 and became the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
Everyone goes to see the Golden Pavilion (400Y).
The buildings apart form the pavilion were burned down during the Onin war (1467-1477). The pavilion was burned down in 1950 by a novice monk so five years after that, they built a new Golden Pavilion which continues to house the Buddha’s ashes. The top two levels of the pavilion is covered with gold leaves. Since gold is a lucky colour, the place is immune to negative thoughts. Fun fact- The rocks in the pond were donated by the various provincial lords during the Muromachi Period.
Still remember Rina? Yes, that lovely girl who I bumped into whilst backpacking in Queenstown New Zealand? She came all the way from Osaka to see me.
“You will have the real Japanese experience. We will both be in a Kimono and we can explore Gion and other well-known temples together.” said Rina.
Rina took me to a nice Kimono store called “Meng Guan” (Phone Number 075-354-8515) and the old ladies helped us with the complicating process.
We walked to the Gion area and I listened to Rina as she told me about the architecture and history of Kyoto.
Gion developed in the Middle Ages and was used to accommodate travellers and visitors to the Yasaka Shrine. It is one of the most well-known geisha/geiko districts in all of Japan. There are many restaurants, old-style Japanese houses, tea houses and stores in Gion. The streets are ancient and much of her original beauty has been wonderfully preserved.
Gion is not a red-light district. It’s a place where singers, dancers and entertainers (geishas) gather to perform. It’s not Silom, Bangkok or Amsterdam, Netherland.
Kiyomizu-dera (300Y) is a Buddhist temple found in 778. The present buildings were built in 1633. As it is close to a waterfall, it is named the pure water temple. We took off our shoes and walked barefoot not he wooden verandah.With modern Kyoto in the background, the main hall with its large veranda floats on a red sea which allow visitors to have access to the wonderful hillside. Rina took me to a shrine that is dedicated to the god of love and good matches. Rina told me that when she gets married, she will have a traditional Japanese wedding. It will most likely take place in Kyoto and yes, I’m invited! I hope that she finds the love of her life.
After the visit, we had tea and tofu right outside the temple. It certainly feels different when you are in a Kimono. If you ignore all those people in modern attire, then it feels like the 1600’s.
Night time fell ..so one last walk around Gion in my Kimono.