Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Rumours of me being too lazy to put together a decent blog post are pretty well spot-on.
Of course, I will try to rationalise it away – it’s cold out there, I don’t have my own camera, family commitments, the trip to Kyoto…
Everyone who is someone, or even anyone, in Japan has been there.
Ryoma was here. This was a spot we stumbled upon – it was on a main street on our way to Gion.
That soy sauce could kill you…
My first experience of Kyoto was during my stint as an exchange student back in 1989. It would be more than 25 years until I visited again, this time as guide and chaperone to my niece (on her second trip – she had to wait less than one year).
This isn’t a travel blog, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.
Kyoto had received its heaviest snowfall in over 60 years, and we were warned to expect snow and extreme cold. Luckily, there was almost no trace of that snow, nor was it particularly cold during our stay.
We arrived on January 10th at a little before 11. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, the first stop on the agenda was the Gion area, specifically the Yasaka Shrine.
The entrance to the Yasaka Shrine from across the road.
My own reasons for visiting this shrine were very much WIJ themed – I remembered another blogger’s post about the kirin there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have
my the wife’s camera (I was forced to leave that home), and my mobile phone doesn’t quite cut it in less than optimal conditions, so please excuse the quality of my photos.
The lion dogs which guard shrines are known as komainu (狛犬), but you’ll notice that one of the guardians of the Yasaka Shrine has a single horn. This has led some people to believe that it is not a lion dog but in fact a kirin (麒麟), or unicorn.
The horned guardian.
You can see the horn more clearly in this shot.
(There are bizzare theories that this is related to the lion and unicorn on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, suggesting a Semetic origin of the Japanese!)
Komainu or kirin?
From Yasaka, an easy walk to the famed Kiyomizu Temple, my favourite spot on my previous visit… only to find that it is currently under repair! No photos there!
Pagoda on the Yasaka Road heading towards Kiyomizu.
OK, I lied. I got one photo at Kiyomizu. This is a decorative roof tile known as an onigawara (literally “demon tile”) Many temples have their own distinct onigawara.
A bus ride to Ginkakuji, whose garden is well worth the entrance fee. I hadn’t visited this before, so it was quite a treat.
The main pavillion.
Now, that’s a sandcastle! The Kogetsudai is said to be to reflect the moonlight, or to repesent Mt. Fuji.
View of the pavillion from across the sand garden.
The other main temple building and pond.
Raked sand art.
The pavillion viewed from the hill. Note the Chinese pheonix on the roof.
It was here that my niece asked me about various Japanese plants, and I was able to explain about Aucuba, coral bush, and several other plants. She astutely observed the lack of flowering plants and that most of the colour to be seen was fruit.
After Ginkakuji, we took a short stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk and stumbled upon another temple, the Honen-in. It cost us nothing to enter the grounds, but the garden was quite good.
… and more sand art.
We decided to call it a day – most temples and shrines close to the public at 4:30 in winter – and made our way back to the hotel. There, I plotted out our route for the next day.
The first stop on day 2 was Kinkaku-ji. No-one seems to care that the current building dates from the 1950’s, and after all, it is a very nice piece of real estate. My niece was interested in the carp in the pond, while I pointed out the night heron waiting in a tree.
The main gate and entrance to Kinkakuji.
The pavillion on the pond.
A closer view.
Note the phoenix on the roof again. This one is also featured on the ￥10000 note.
Ryoanji was next on the agenda. This was my first visit, but I had heard and read a lot about the famous rock garden. It is certainly worth visiting.
The onigawara on the main temple building at Ryoanji.
♬ I am a rock, I am an island ♫
“Enlightenment?” “Nah, it’s just a bunch of rocks”
On a warm day I coud just sit and watch these things for hours.
Door post decoration. I reckon I was one of the few people who weren’t too distracted by the rocks to notice this.
I have to admit, that rock garden is a pleasant distraction.
Next, we paid an impromptu visit to Ninnaji. A couple of the buildings were under repair, and for me it lacked something – maybe I was suffering from temple overload. Still, we were able to enter the grounds for free.
One of the temple gates.
From there, a bus ride to the Arashiyama area.
The bamboo forest walk was quite impressive, and no camera can capture the feeling of being surrounded by huge bamboo stalks.
World’s tallest grass?
I don’t think any of the other tourists stopped to take photos of the bamboo until I did.
Next was Tenryuji, a large temple with a nice garden and large pond. Here, many of the plants were labelled – how thoughtful!
The pond at Tenryuji. Yes, that is my fiinger on the top left.
Nice rocks in front of the temple building.
Nicely twisted and gnarled red pine.
Finally, we walked down to Togekkyo. The bridge was a disappointment – a modern concrete structure, complete with traffic. A bridge too far? Oh, well… tomorrow is another day.
Anyone for bridge?
The morning of the 13th brought snow, but it stopped during our late-ish breakfast. My plan was to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha and maybe one other location, time permitting. Time didn’t permit – no-one told me that the shrine complex extends up a hill and needs at least 2 hours to complete the circuit!
The first torii gate and main shrine building.
A guardian fox.
And so it begins… the circuit of thousands of torii gates and pockets of Inari shrines.
Mossy fox. Inari is usually either depicted as a fox, or foxes are the god’s messengers.
There are a few Buddhist dieties here and there among the foxes…
… and the occasional toad.
A sign proudly states that the shrine complex was voted the most popular destination in Kyoto among overseas tourists in 2014. Each to their own, I guess.
There were other places I would have liked to visit, and I really needed more time for those unplanned “stumble upon” experiences. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 25 years for my next Kyoto visit!
Many thanks to my sister and niece, without whom this trip wouldn’t have happened.