Today we got the Randen, which is what locals call the Keifuku Electric Railroad, a tram, or streetcar, with quite cute little carriages. Operational since 1910, it is now the only tramline left of a network that used to cover the whole city. I thought they were a tourist thing because there are lots of sights near the station stops, but it is used by local people to get around, on the only two lines that are operational now. I liked that they have a purple tram.
Our first stop today is Kinkakuji, (Golden Temple), obvious to see why it’s called this. Kinkakuji is a Zen Temple. Each floor represents a different style of architecture, the first floor is built in the Shinden style, the second floor in the Bukke style, and the top floor in style of a Chinese Zen Hall, with a golden phoenix perched on the top. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf.
Originally built for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397, as a residence for his retirement, it was turned into a Zen temple after his death in 1408. The structure today was built in 1955, previous versions of the building have burnt down several times throughout its history, including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto, and more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatical monk.
It is designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape, and it is one of 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are World Heritage Sites.
The temple stands in front of a large, tranquil pond which provides good photo opportunities. However, it is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, and what you don’t see in these photos are the hundreds of tourists that were here. We got there just after 9am, it was chaotic and completely rammed with people: coach tours with the compulsory, miked up, tour guides, all talking different languages; school trips with what seemed like whole classes of chatty children; and random tourists like us; the cacophony of humans competing to be heard was awful, and all vying to take a selfie in front of the temple. Marshalls were coordinating the swathes of humans, as there was a one way system that they were ensuring was being kept to. Despite the beauty of the temple and pond, the experience was vile.
Whilst we are tourists, we don’t really like being around hoards of them, and turned into grumpy humans as we marched off to our next temple. Ryoanji Temple is the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden. This is another very popular temple. The rectangular Zen garden contains fifteen rocks, and gravel. At 25 meters long I couldn’t get a decent picture of the whole garden, because there were too many tourists there! and it is said that only 14 of the rocks can be seen from any one place in the temple, until one attains enlightenment, the fifteenth boulder remains unseen.
The rock garden is viewed from the Hojo, the head priest’s former residence, where one can sit on the steps and, because the garden’s meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find their own meaning. The rock garden is thought to have been created around 1500 by a Zen monk.
In the ground of the temple is the Kyoyochi Pond, which dates from the late twelfth century.
We got back on the tram for a ride to the end of the line to visit Arashiyama area. When we came out of the station we were basically in a tourist town, one that was crammed with people. The Togetsukyo Bridge, meaning Moon Crossing Bridge is suggested as Arashiyama’s most iconic landmark, originally built during the Heian Period (794-1185) and most recently reconstructed in the 1930s. We were rather underwhelmed by the bridge and what was on either side of the Katsura River.
The walk through the Bamboo Grove, is a concrete path though bamboo, again slightly underwhelming.
Tenryu-ji Temple is the most important temple in this area, is one of five great Zen temples of the city, a UNESCO world heritage site, and also known for it’s gardens. The Sogenchi Garden was the first garden in the country to win the designation by the Japanese Government as a Site of Special Historic and Scenic Importance .
The garden is designed as a strolling pond garden, with the path around the pond showing the scenery from different perspectives. Designed seven hundred years ago by Zen master Muso Soseki, it still retains its original appearance today.
Over the last two days we’ve seen a lot of traditional rickshaws here, pulled by humans. Japan is where rickshaws are commonly believed to have been first invented, in the 1860s and by 1870s, 40,000 rickshaws were operating in Tokyo, as they became a popular, inexpensive, method of transport in the 19th century. Rickshaws are now used as a tourist attraction, we saw them at all tourist areas we visited.