Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Japan Day 3: Kyoto

On Wednesday--this is way back on the 3rd now--we took a train to Kyoto for a day of heavy duty temple and shrine seeing. As I start talking about seeing all these temples, let me just state that the Buddhist temples have clearly got getting money from visitors, whether Buddhist or otherwise, down to a science. I'm not criticizing because it doesn't bother me. I'm just noting that they know how to get their money.

When we arrived in Kyoto we hopped onto a very crowded bus and took the longest ride ever--i.e. about an hour--to Kinkakuji. Steph, who makes a fantastic tour guide, says that this is the most popular temple with foreigners. I assume because it's flashy and gold (and rather prettier than it looks in this rather dull picture).
You walk around the pond on a path stopping to see various items of interest. For example, bowls like in the photo below. The idea is that if you can throw a coin into the bowl you'll have good luck. Right. Granted, I threw a coin anyway, but "good luck?" I suspect that might equate to "grounds upkeep."

After Kinkakuji we took a shorter bus ride to Imperial Palace Park, but couldn't see much. Mainly just that the largely invisible imperial palace is very big. So we walked around, looked at the walls, saw some fish and ducks in a little park, and then hopped back on a bus to go to Kiyomizu Temple.
Kiyomizu is fantastic. It was also very crowded--positively crawling with students. Probably because you can buy charms for good luck on things like exams and love. In the same section as they sell these charms, there are also two stones set some distance apart. If you can walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, you will have good luck in love. If you fail, you will have to wait a long time for love. Anyway, it's a pretty neat place with lots to look at, so here are some pictures:
Dippers for rinsing hands and mouth.
I have no idea who this guy is.
Little plaques on which you can write wishes. After purchasing the plaque, of course.
Like candles in a church!

Little BuddhasA snail checking out some flowers.

After Kiyomizu, I was able to buy souvenirs at a couple of the many gift shops lining the street leading up to the temple. From there we wandered through the old, winding streets of Gion (a district in Kyoto). Apparently this is the area where you can occasionally still see geisha, but I didn't. It was nice though, because there were these great old wooden building--the kind that have courtyards with trees growing in them and visible over the tops of the walls. There was one area that had a lot of these interesting looking things, although I have no idea what they are:

From Gion, we took a subway to Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is, again, very neat. I quite like the dogs at shinto shrines, and Fushimi Inari was the first place where I saw bundles of 1000 cranes.
The real attraction at Fushimi Inari though is the long line of gates leading up away from the shrine. It was dark by the time we got there and quiet because it was almost empty. The gates start out large, but soon change to smaller gates that are closer together.
The flash makes everything look all brightly lit in those pictures though, which wasn't really the case. It was actually fairly eerie. To give you a better idea of what it actually looked like I give you this video which, though slightly dark, is much closer to the reality. Unfortunately it's sideways for most of the video before I think to flip it right side up. This is because a) I'm an idiot and b) I had never used the video feature before. Oh well. You'll still get the picture.
video

Our final stop was back in Gion, where we had dinner and then went to see what is supposed to be the loveliest night spot in Kyoto. It's a tree-lined road that has a little stream--a tributary of the big river running through the city--running alongside it. The stream is crossed by many small bridges leading to restaurants and other buildings.

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