Today's retrospective: In November 2014, a friend from Washington came to visit, and the two of us took the shinkansen to see Kyoto and Nara. Sadly, my computer totally crashed - unrecoverable - immediately upon our return from Kyoto, and I spent the next several weeks trying to get it fixed. The positive is that, while I lost everything that had been on my computer because I was an idiot that never bothered to find out what the heck Time Machine is, I hadn't downloaded my Kyoto photos yet. But all of the computer trauma/drama delayed my review of the photos long enough that then life got away from me, and the blog post got set aside until some nebulous point in the future. Of course, now it's been so long that I don't remember a ton. But I can give you a handful of key photos and a quick run down of where we went!
For those who may not know, Kyoto was Japan's capital from 794 to 1868. It has tons of history, with thousands of temples, gardens, imperial palaces, and shinto shrines. It's also the city most famous for geisha (followed by Tokyo and Niigata (and Osaka?)). A fairly common thing to do is to rent a kimono for the day and then go to the many temples and shrines and gardens. Our visit to Kyoto was fairly short, so we sadly didn't have time to rent kimonos. Basically, I looked at japan-guide, and if it didn't have three red dots, we didn't do it.
We started at Kinkakuji - aka Golden Pavilion - which was the retirement villa of Yoshimitsu Shogun until his death in 1408, at which point it became a Zen temple. It's beautiful.
I took this picture just outside the grounds of Kinkakuji. The leaves were just starting to change color in Kyoto, and some of them had fallen onto this plastic ice cream cone (advertising a place to buy ice cream cones - it wasn't just a random ice cream cone - although, that wouldn't have really surprised me in Japan).
We then walked down the street to Ninnaji Temple - the one exception to my three-red-dots rule, but it's a World Heritage Site. The temple is also known as the Omuro Imperial Palace and is the head temple for the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was late, so we actually couldn't go up to the temple, but we were able to go through the Goten, the former residence of the head priest. It is beautiful, with lovely, peaceful rock and pond gardens.
The next day, we took the train to Nara, which was the first permanent capital of Japan, from 710 to 784. It's main temple - one of the most famous temples in Japan - is Todaiji, or Great Eastern Temple. It dates back to 752. The current main hall, which dates back to 1692 and is only 2/3 the size of the original main hall, is the largest wooden building in the world. Inside is a 15 meter tall Buddha and two Bodhisattvas.
The other thing Nara is famous for are the deer. Wild shika deer wander around freely. Up until just after World War II, they were considered to be sacred, as one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine is said to have visited Ibaraki riding a deer. They are no longer considered to be sacred, but they are classified as national treasures. You can buy deer crackers to feed them, but be aware that they know that you can buy crackers to feed them, and they can be a bit aggressive about it - crowding you and pulling on your clothes until there are no more crackers left. It's still fun though!
Of course, Nara fully embraces being a city where deer wander freely, so you see them everywhere, including on light poles and in arcades.
On the way back from Nara, we stopped at Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for having thousands of torii gates. It's really cool to walk up the hill through the tunnel of torii. What's funny is that it's one of those shrines that all of the foreign tourists go to, but according to all of the Japanese I've talked to, pretty much none of them ever go.
We started the next (and last) day at Ginkakuji - or "Silver Pavilion." It was originally the retirement villa of Yoshimasa Shogun, who was the grandson of the shogun who built Kinkakuji. There are lot's of different theories as to why it's the "Silver Pavilion" even though it's not silver. But it's pretty and has a "unique" dry sand garden and beautiful grounds.
These were just some pretty things we saw when we were walking around. I loved how even the little shrine was made kind of cute and sparkly!
We then walked through Higashiyama District - one of the best preserved historic districts in the city - on our way to Kiyomizudera Temple, aka "Pure Water Temple," which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's most famous for it's wooden balcony that extends from the main hall. Since the temple is on a mountainside, with the balcony about 13 meters above the hillside, it provides a great view. The Otowa Waterfall is at the base of the main hall. The water is split into three streams, with each stream providing a different benefit to the drinker - longevity, success at school or a fortunate love life. You can't drink from all three though, because that's considered greedy. Sadly, we didn't drink from any of the streams. There were a TON of Chinese tourists there, and we didn't want to wait in the very long line.
|Looking up at the main hall from the Otowa Waterfall|
|Some girls dressed in kimono at Kiyomizudera|
And that was basically our trip! We got a very quick peek at Gion, the geisha district, on our way back to the hotel, but we didn't really have time for it. I would love to go back to Kyoto some day and explore some more. There's just so much to see!