We arrived in Kyoto on Monday evening, thinking it would take us a few minuets to walk to our hotel then we could go exploring. Kyoto is a huge, sprawling city, the seventh largest in Japan. When we got a map from the hotel staff, they advised it was too far to walk, even a bus would take 20 minuets. So with instructions on which bus and where the stop was, we went off exploring the city centre. Nothing particularly spectacular, lots of shops, as one would expect, we found a lovely noodle bar for supper and made our way back to the hotel for an early night as we were up early in the morning.
For over a thousand years Kyoto was the capital city of Japan, the Japanese still see Kyoto as the cultural capital of the country. Kyoto has approximately a quarter of Japan’s national treasures, over a thousand Buddhist shrines, four hundred Shinto temples, and seventeen sites designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. We have a temple/shrine itinerary that we’ve agreed, starting in city’s most important sightseeing district, Southern Higashiyama. Erol suggested we hire electric bicycles for the day to ensure we get to see as much as possible. It was a brilliant idea, they were great fun, and not only did we get to see everything on our, very ambitious, list we also did a couple of extras too, and got the bikes back an hour early. One can cycle on the pavements here, there aren’t that many dedicated cycle lanes, cyclists just ride all over the pavement and no one seems particularly bothered by it, so this makes it easy to be a cyclist here, because, like any other global city, the traffic is horrendous.
Once we had shown the bicycle hire chap that we could operate the bicycles to his satisfaction, we took the route along the River Kamogawa, ‘the river of wild ducks’ to get to our first temple, as we rode along the river bank we saw herons fishing for their breakfast.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple, it literally means ‘Pure Water Temple’, is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan, founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall, on a hill, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994.
There was a horrid tarpaulin thing over the main building, when we visited, as it was being renovated, so I didn’t take any photos of the main hall, which has a wooden stage that juts out over the hillside, for views over the city.
The bikes have to be parked in designated places, this is Japan, usually an area of an existing car park, and it was as we rode into the car park that I saw this huge concrete statue set against the tree covered mountains, this place wasn’t on our itinerary.
Our plan was for me to buy a ticket, take a few photos and go on to our next stop. However, the lovely elderly Japanese chap in the ticket booth, who didn’t speak a word of English, called me back as I was about to walk off with my ticket, and presented me with a burning incense stick, we, (Erol and I) thought this was a lovely gesture, we had a bit of a moment, Erol bought a ticket too and we spend time wandering the grounds, bathed with wisps of scented smoke from our incense sticks.
This is the Ryozen Kwannon Temple, a war memorial dedicated to the fallen on both sides of the Pacific War, it has an altar containing soil from every Allied cemetery from World War II. In the Memorial Hall there’s a monument erected to the memory of more than forty-eight thousand foreign soldiers who died on Japanese territory. The 24 meter high, 500 ton, concrete statue of the compassionate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, was unveiled in June 1955. Before we left, we put our incense sticks in the burner, I really wanted to carry mine around, not practical when riding a bike, goodness knows how that would have ended.
Incense less, we went to see the Kodaiji Temple. On route we came across a little coffee stand which made really good, soy milk cappuccinos, it was also a good place to people watch. We saw these smiley women, taking photos of each other and got even more giggles when I asked if I could take their photo. A bit like in Seoul, (but not in the numbers and they don’t have traditional footwear), people dress up in national costume to visit temples and shrines.
Kodaiji Temple, founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her late husband. I didn’t photograph much here, we found it rather uninspiring, ditto Yasaka-jinja Shrine.
The main entrance gate to the Chion-in Temple, the Sanmon Gate, dates to the early 1600s and is the largest wooden gate in Japan, 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide. Chion-in Temple is the headquarters of the Jōdo sect, the largest school of Buddhism in Japan, and one of the most popular pilgrimage temples in Kyoto.
Shorenin Temple is the only temple in Japan that is dedicated to the Shijoko Nyorai.
Inside one of the buildings were some examples of wood painting.
A pond is at the centre of the tranquil gardens.
We got a human to take a photo of us on our bikes, before we cycled to our final temple today, Nanzenji Temple. There’s an aqueduct in the temple grounds that extends from Lake Biwa to Kyoto, called the Biwa-ko Sosui. It was built in 1888, is made of granite and red brick, is 9 meters high, 93.2 meters long and 4 meters wide. The Temple is the headquarters of the Nanzenji branch of the Rinzai school of Zen, and also one of the most important Zen temples in the world.
After we handed the bikes back we walked to Nishiki Market, a five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, the market sells fresh seafood, produce, and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.
We walked around the Gion district, a famous entertainment and geisha quarter where streets are lined with 17th-century traditional restaurants and teahouses are lit up with lanterns. It was dark and raining quite heavily when we got there, so I didn’t take any photos.