Temples, Gardens and Shrines: Kyoto 2-5.11.2002

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aut12105-kyomizudera.jpg On Monday Anemone, Lubi and Slavka headed back to Kanazawa and I took a bus to the eastern Kyoto to do sightseeing alone. My first stop was Kiyomizudera temple (清水寺). It's one of the most famous in Kyoto and thus almost always full of tourists who rush to take pictures of each other with the temple and city of Kyoto in the background.
aut12108-kyomizudera-water.jpg There was a small stream of water running to the temple yard from the garden at the back. Everybody lined up to take a sip so I followed the example. I didn't fully know the symbolism but I guess it was to bring luck or good health. At the entrance of the temple there was another place to purify oneself by pouring water on one's hands, which is more common in other temples too.
aut12113-kyomizudera-street.jpg The streets on the hillside leading up to Kiyomizudera were full of souvenir shops. They were more attractive than in many other places though because the buildings were constructed in traditional Japanese style. Besides, shops which sell sweets and cookies always offer small pieces for tasting so it is possible to sample various local delicacies for free. Some even invite you to have a cup of tea with the candy. Their strategy worked - I also bought some yatsuhashi to bring back to Kanazawa.
aut12116-chorakuji.jpg After Kiyomizudera I visited Ryozen-Kwannon (霊山観音), a World War II memorial site with a huge Buddha on the top. Then while walking towards the north I spotted a particularly nice-looking temple entrance and decided to go in. The place was called Choraku-ji (長楽寺) and it turned out to be one of the most pleasant sites in Kyoto. Not marked in the guidebooks it wasn't packed with tourists and thus presented the garden and decorations inside in a peaceful setting, just as they should be enjoyed. The path uphill behind the buildings opened a superb view over the city. Well worth the 600 yen they charged as entrance fee.
aut12120-chorakuji-architecture.jpg This is traditional Japanese architecture from Chorakuji tea room: tatami floors, walls made of sliding wood and paper panels, little or no furniture, a view to the garden. Nice and cool during summer, but cold in the winter. Books of Japanese haiku (a special type of poem) and calligraphy were available for browsing while relaxing on the floor.
aut12122-big-bell.jpg A bit further north I came to a big temple bell and admired it for a while. I was already going away when an elderly man approached me saying in English "Come here, I'll explain the bell to you." I heard among other things that it was the biggest bell in whole Japan, that it belonged to Chion-in temple (知恩院), and that on every New Year's Eve it is tolled 108 times spreading its magnificent sound over whole Kyoto. The friendly man himself was an English teacher and we walked together to the temple area chatting this and that.

At Chion-in I still took the standard tour around the temple. However, paying 400 yen extra was quite useless - it would have been possible to see most things for free and after many other temples I didn't find this one so special.

After Chion-in I started to run out of cash - big stores and hotels usually accept credit cards in Japan but smaller restaurants, youth hostels and sigthseeing spots mostly don't. Therefore I had to make a detour back to city center to get money before night: another pecularity of this country is that bank ATM's are not open 24 hours a day. I find it really bizarre, especially considering the ubiquity of all kinds of vending machines and even stores which are open all night. I also learned later that the withdrawal fee from an ATM depends on the time, it is more expensive outside regular banking hours. Anyway, at least I found an ATM and got money out of it.

I had initially planned to finish my extensive temple tour at Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion, note the one letter difference to Kinkakuji alias Golden Pavilion on the western side) but didn't have time for that. Nevertheless, I walked through the park up to the entrance following a path called "Philosopher's walk".

At night there were again some sites with special illumination. However, I decided that I'd had my share of temples for the day and set the course towards amusement centers in the city center instead. All Japanese cities of even moderate size have halls with dozens of different coin-operated machines to satisfy game enthusiasts. Perhaps the most peculiar type from Western point of view is Pachinko: the player feeds small metal balls into a machine with various flashing and moving parts and just watches how the balls bounce around.
aut12127-beatmania.jpg Namco Wonder Tower was one of the biggest centers in Kyoto, boosting seven floors of machines. Various music and dance related games were hip at the moment, and a few players had clearly been spending excessive amounts of 100-yen coins to get skilled in them. The cabinet in the picture is a "try being a DJ" machine called Beatmania: already an old version and thus nobody was playing it at the moment. I also found an "Initial D" racing game and of course had to burn a little bit of virtual rubber with the Toyota Trueno - this is an insider for Anime fans. :)
aut12130-nijo.jpg Tuesday morning I met Nicolas (from Australia) and Marie-Anne (Irish) and we decided to spend the day together. The picture is from Nijo castle (二条城)which featured a vast garden and big halls, mostly empty though. One interesting detail found in both Nijo and some temples was the "Nightingale" floor in the hallways. The supports under the wooden planks were constructed to give a squeaking sound when stepping on them, thus warning about possible enemies trying to sneak in.

Nicolas and Marie-Anne continued towards Kinkakuji and as I had already been there I wanted to do something else. Nicolas had the Lonely Planet guide which described a short hike in the Arashiyama (嵐山)area. That sounded nice so I made notes and took a bus there.

Upon arrival, I was a bit puzzled - there was the river mentioned in the guide but no hiking path. Only later did I realize that I had missed one critical part when writing my notes - I shouldn't have taken the bus to the Arashiyama stop but instead to a place called Takao a few kilometers north. The hike was supposed to end around the place where I was. It was already too late to do the walk in the other direction but I had still time to go a little bit upstream and come back. Based on that part I can already recommend the area if you are in Kyoto and want to see something else than temples, shrines and villas for one day or at least a few hours.

Tuesday obviously wasn't my best day: when going back to Kyoto station I first took a bus in wrong direction (line 28 makes a weird detour - even though Kyoto station is south-east from Arashiyama one must take the bus towards the west!) and the second one was stuck in a traffic jam. Fortunately I had initially reserved plenty of time and got to the Kyoto station at the last minute to catch the bus back to rainy Kanazawa. Friends told me that it had been raining whole weekend so apparently it was perfect timing to visit Kyoto. Didn't have enough time to see everything, so I'll surely go there another time while living in Kanazawa, only a few hours away.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi> 2002.
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Last update 20.12.2002.