A day in Kyoto. Despite the many, many temples and shrines, World Heritage Sites and Cultural Treasures, the main part of Kyoto is basically ugly, like most cities in Japan it appears. Any charm has been destroyed as buildings are built and rebuilt, modern, flat, grey. Electricity lines snake down streets, not underground but in the air like mad knitting. There’s no space between houses, no gardens, the buildings in the city built tight next to each other, the same pattern repeated as you move to the outskirts. Now and again you get an old building that has survived, but most seems to be as new as possible.
To get any idea of what it may have been once, you need to get to the outskirts. We went to Arashiyama this morning and houses in their own plots, tidy, organised gardens, single stories are what you find there. Totally different to anything we have seen so far, in the cities or from the train. We went to visit Tenryu-Ji, a temple that was established in 1339.
All the buildings are modern (ish) but the gardens date back to the 14th century, designed to work with the background mountains, called ‘shakkei’ or ‘borrowed-landscape’. This is the first real sculptured gardens we have seen so far. We sat and contemplated the view for a while.
Next, a walk along the edge of the mountain, through the famous bamboo grove. Gorgeous towering bamboo trees reach up to the sky and you walk through the green-tinged light.
Back into the village, a quick meal of noodles from a roadside stall and then train and bus to the complete opposite side of the city, the other mountains.
Here we visited Kitomizu-dera, another ancient temple, established in 798 but with most buildings dated from 1633. If the morning was about contemplation of nature, this was definitely the interactive temple. We climbed up and up, through the graveyards before hitting the forecourt, full of people, especially schoolparties.
Into the main hall, with a verandah jutting over the hillside supported by huge pillars and a view over the city.
You could go down under a building, into the pitch dark, following a guideline to the magic stone, figuratively entering the womb of a female budhisvatta. At the heart, there’s a stone that you can turn either way and make a wish. I’m guessing there’s some pretty slick ball bearings under the stone to allow it to do that!
Up to the main interactive section, a shrine or action for everyone. You could rub the statue for luck. You could write your sorrows on paper and dissolve them away, wish a curse on your enemies.
Or you could walk the 18m between the two love stones with your eyes closed. Make it and hit the second stone, you would find true love.
You could also be terrified by the love messenger bunny, in bronze or red-eyed furry glory.
The final activity was to reach out and catch the water from the spring, wash and drink it and make a wish. This place is all about the wishes.
We headed back to change as tonight we were off out to treat ourselves. As we’re in Japan, we have to try Kobe beef and the Itoh Dining by Nobu seemed to be a good place. The 7 courses that followed were definitely worth it! (and we finally saw a real geisha on our way to the restaurant)
Most people we’ve seen so far seem to obey the walk/don’t walk signs, they wait, even if a small road and no-one is heading your way. They often have a count down so you can tell how long you have to wait. When they do turn green, they start making a noise and I have no idea what defines the noise they make, as it does not seem to be connected with the type of sign. There are two main noises. One goes cuckoo, cuckoo. The other goes pew, pew-pew. Today I heard a third, going cuc-cuckoo.
Tomorrow we head out of the city for a visit to Nara, the previous capital.
Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 10 post: Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo