Sunday, February 06, 2011

Kyoto July 16-19, 2008

When we got to Kyoto it was the night before the final parade of the Gion Matsuri, one of Japan's most well known festivals. We didn't really plan on doing this, it just worked out that way.

All of downtown Kyoto was blocked off for pedestrian traffic only. All of the floats were on display along with countless food vendors and girls with kimonos.

One of the interesting things about this festival is that families will put family heirlooms on display for all to see. Kyoto's streets basically become a free museum of antique kimonos and artwork.

Since everyone in Kyoto was wrapped up in the festival, it made shrine hopping virtually tourist free for the most part. Our first stop was a short walk from our business hotel. Probably best known for the hundreds of torii gates, Fushimi Inari shrine was definitely one of our favorites.

Started in 790 this Shinto shrine boasts over 10,000 torii gates (and I think we saw everyone of them).

After getting our share of torii gates we stopped by Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion built in the late 1400's). Although it's called the silver pavilion, it was never covered in silver.

When we were there the main pavilion was under renovation, but we still got to see the gardens.

Tornado potato anyone?

Our next stop was the Heian Jingu temple. This temple was built in 1895 in celebration of Kyoto's 1100th birthday.

Stacks of sake barrels like above represent donations of patrons at Shinto shrines.

These 'paper prayers' are common at temples and shrines in Japan.

When you come to the fork in the road...

The gardens at Heian Jingu were massive and well manicured. They also had hazardous water case and so on.

Luckily balance prevailed and we continued on our tour.

More gardens at Heian Jingu.

Another one of the temple complexes we visited was the Kiyomizudera temple. Established in 790, the buildings of the complex date back to the 1600's. As you can see, the temple sits on the hillside giving great views of Kyoto.

In the temple complex are three waterfalls called Otawa no taki. You drink from these for health, longevity, and wisdom respectively. However, you're only supposed to drink from two of them. If you drink from all three you're seen as greedy and misfortune will fall upon you...oops, I was thirsty.

Although we'd seen fountains like this at other shrines in Japan, this was the first one we saw people bringing plastic jugs to fill with the water.

Another interesting part of the temple complex is a shrine dedicated the god of love and match making. In this shrine are two rocks that are about 30 ft apart. If you navigate between the two rocks with your eyes closed you'll find your true love. Let's see how Amy did...

The main complex of the temple (above) is made entirely without any type of nail. It's supported by 139 pillars 49 ft tall. During the Edo period if you jumped off and survived your wish would be granted. Of the 234 who attempted the jump, 85.4% survived.

One of the more interesting places in Kyoto was the Gion Shimbashi. This area is the best example of the Edo period tea houses with the bamboo shades covering the house fronts.

At night we got to glimpse three geisha. Since there are only about 1,100 left, we consider ourselves lucky to have seen some. It's easy to see why this area was one of the main locations for shooting Memoirs of a Geisha.

We did get to eat dinner in one of the tea houses. It was pretty much filled with tourists (both Gaijen and Japanese), but the food was good.

The Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) was originally built as a retreat for a shogun in the 1300's. Eventually it was converted to a Buddhist temple. It has been burned to the ground a few times, the most recent incident by a crazy monk in 1955.

The most underwhelming of the 'must see' temples was the Ryoanji Temple. In the land of Buddha, it is supposedly the most zen of locations. Don't get me wrong, it was a cool rock garden. It was built in the 1400's, and it has also been designated a World Heritage Site.

Another UNESCO site, the Toji temple boasts the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Originally built in the 8th century, the present pagoda dates back to the 1600's

A good reminder for all of us thinking of scribbling on priceless treasures of Japanese culture.

The Sanjusangendo Temple boasts the longest wooden building in Japan. But the real attraction here are the 1,001 Kannon statues covered in gold leaf. All of them were individually carved from Japanese Cyprus trees around 1264 AD. Photography was prohibited inside the building...oops.

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