Day 5: April 2, 2012 Monday
The next morning, after breakfast, we leisurely packed up (after the clueless hotel clerk told us getting to Tokyo Station on the Keiyo Line takes less than 10 minutes) and strolled to the train station. We barely made the bullet train, Shinkansen Hikari 新幹線 ひかり (ran by the JR Rail), and didn’t find out seats (13 cars later) until 15 minutes after the train left the station. The trip was purchased through Japanican.
Thanks HVF-Hatchbori staff!
We got into Kyoto Station at 1:13 pm. Hell-o Kyoto! Off to a good start, minus the morning’s mishap. Check in to hotel. Go sight-seeing.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. There was a storm brewing in the horizon.
Instead of taking the subway/bus like I wanted to, hubs said we should walk to our hotel (he THINKS it’s close). But I also knew we had to get the “Kyoto Sight-Seeing Pass” for 2000¥ per person. He vetoed me on both. By the time we rolled to Higanshi Hoganji on Karasuma Road, the largest wooden structure in Kyoto, we were sweating bullets and ready to leave our luggages on the roadside. I asked the randomly available tour guides the best and closest place I could pick up the Sight-Seeing Pass. Kyoto transportation-map
“Kyoto Station,” came the reply, which was 20 minutes from where we trekked from. Frustrated, we backtracked. We finally got our Pass and took a bus to our hotel, the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel, on Karasuma Street (烏丸道) and Shijo (四条 4th Street - a shopping haven that runs into Gion).
After the bus dropped us off, it took us another 10 minutes to locate our hotel! I cannot say that I’m navigationally challenged. But the maps drawn by the Japanese people are from a different planet.
Hello Kyoto! Yoroshiko Onegaishimasu! よろしくお願いします！
Dropping off our anchors, we hurriedly took the Karasuma Line (stopping at Imadegawa 今出川) up to the Kyoto Imperial Palace for our scheduled tour at 3pm. Too much time was lost being lost and we have to make up for it. For such a small country, it really has a large expanse of land to run. We hustled our ass up to the gate, only to be told (at 3pm) that the tour has left. The guards called the guide, who returned to inform us that we could return on Wednesday (we protested that we were leaving, which fell on unsympathetic ears) from 9am-3pm without any tour pass. Maybe…never.
We hopped back on the Karasuma Line (thank goodness for the pass otherwise we would have had to sell our livers to get around), changed to the Tozai Line at Karasuma Oike for Nijo Castle, the famed castle of the nightingale floors (Tales of the Otori). Entrance fee was 600¥ per person, no photos inside the Palace and no shoes either. The floors, indeed, sang like a nightingale, but we could see the slow decay of the site. Their solution is to keep the blistering rays of the sun against their colored paper paintings and wooden interior by closing all the doors. In turn, the castle is dark and just a little dank.
The gardens were gorgeous, but would have been majestic if only the Cherry Blossoms were in bloom!
Nijo Castle 二条城, a designated UNESCO Heritage site, was build as a residence for the Shoguns by the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ordered his feudal lords to contribute to the construction of Nijo Castle in 1601. It was later completed in 1626 under Tokugawa Iemitsu (Ieyasu’s grandson). Edo (current day Tokyo) was the capital, but Kyoto was home of the Imperial Court.
The flatland castle is 275,000 square meters with 8000 square meters occupied by buildings. Of these buildings, the Ninomaru Palace (residence of the shogun) and the ruins of Honmaru Palace (main circle of defense) and other buildings make up its fortification (consisting of walls and a wide moat). The Castle is site to multiple fire destruction.
Knowing that mother nature will not be on our side the next day, we pushed on to Nanzen-ji 南禅寺 (even though the entrance into the temple was closed at that hour, there was still the complex and Philosopher’s Path to see). We got off the Tozai Line, hiked some distance up a hill into Nanzen-ji, stopped for roadside taiyaki and takoyaki (having skipped lunch unintentionally), and finally reached the sanmon 三門 or 山門: main gate (most important gate of a Japanese Zen Buddhist temple) of Nanzen-ji.
Nanzen-ji 南禅寺, formerly Zenrin-ji 禅林寺, is a Zen Buddhist temple established by Emperor Kameyama in 1291, during the Heian 平安 period, on the site of his previous detached palace. The temple has risen in ranks in importance over the years and now holds the title of “First Temple of the Land.”
A massive structure of archway sits behind Sanmon and Hatto, the Ceremonial Hall. This archway is a canal, called Sosui, a waterway constructed between Lake Biwa and Kyoto City. The canal was constructed in 1881 and was erected 9 years later. It’s main purpose was to connect passing boats from Osaka Bay to Lake Biwa, water supply, irrigation and fire prevention (Kyoto was infamous for setting itself on fire and burning to the ground). When hydroelectricity became profitable, the first power plant was built at Keage in 1889, and the dam quickly became an electric supplier. As of 2008, however, the waterway has reverted to its first purpose: water supply, fire-fighting and irrigation and less for electricity.
We then hiked up the Philosopher’s Path, Tetsugaku no michi 哲学の道, to catch the flowerless Cherry Blossoms, but stopped mid-way through the forest when the sun began to set. (The Philosopher’s Path is said to be lined with beautiful Cherry Blossoms – at least when in bloom, which leads to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavillion). Not such a bright idea, even in a place as safe as Japan. We didn’t fancy getting lost in the woods of a foreign land in the middle of the night.
It was so late in the day that we even caught the hens coming back to roost; monks walking (almost military-like) into Nanzen-ji for their evening prayers. We hurriedly left…after a picture of them mid-walk.
Our final destination for the night was Fushimi Inari Shrine, which took us on the JR Line. Since it was a Shinto shrine, it was open all day, and were able to visit it “after hours.” Not only was it getting late into the night, but the temperature was dropping. My flip-flops did nothing for my frigid toes.
Fushimi Inari-taisha 伏見稲荷大社 is an important Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of vermilion torri (千本鳥居 gates – lit. bird perches). Shinto shrines are places of worship and dwellings of kami (Shinto gods). These shrines are visited especially during special events such as New Year, and other festivals. The Shrine is a dedication to Inari, the kami of rice, which now governs the modern equivalent: success and prosperity in business. This particular shrine serves as the headquarters for all the 40,000 shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan.
The earliest structures of the Shrine were built in 711, but relocated in 816. It sits at the base of Mount Inari. The main shrine was built in 1499. At the main gate, Roumon 楼門, of the Shrine sits two guardian Komainu 狛犬 (most times dogs or lions). However, in the case of this Shrine, a pair of fox (狐 kitsune) messengers guards with keys in their mouths (for the rice granary). Roumon was donated in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a general who not succeeded his former liege lord Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku period (warring states) but also unified the factions of Japan.
The Shrine is two train stations away from Momoyama 桃山, Peach Hills, which was once developed as an important strategic point for land and river transportation connecting Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. Momoyama Castle/Fushimi Castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but torn down later by Tokugawa Ieyasu during his unification of Japan.
The hike to the apex of the mountain and back is said to take 2-3 hours. Strolling in the Shrine’s main building (Honden), we happened upon an upstate New Yorker who lost his way up the mountain in the dead of night. We decided against the hike and instead wandered around the Shrine for a little before heading back to our hotel to call it a night. We also encountered many businessmen paying their respects in the late evening hours.
Hauling our limp bodies back, we decided to stop to refuel at the Cocon Karasuma 古今烏丸, just steps away from our hotel. We saw ramen at Tentenyu, and the warm noodles were calling our names. It seems that this restaurant is not only popular among locals, but also has its own instant noodles sold nationally. Again, slurpingly-good. Stuffed, we hobbled back to our rooms, only to stop in front of the bakery to get green tea puffs. Bakeries and cake shops are the devil’s own.
Day 6: April 3, 2012 Tuesday
We started the day bright and early, hoping to beat the rain. By the time we got to Ryoanji 龍安寺 the droplets came. Deciding against wetting my boots (for travel the next day), I wore my trusty flip-flops again.
The floors of Ryoanji were cold, only because we had to remove our shoes to enter the temple. Even in the rain, we saw the monks diligently raking the gravels and attending to the garden (weeding out some moss and leaving the rest behind).
Ryoanji 龍安寺 (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon), a UNESCO designated World Heritage site, is Japan’s finest rock/zen garden. It was once an aristocrat’s villa, Fuijiwara family, during the Heian Period, but was later converted into a Zen temple in 1450 by a powerful warlord, Hosokawa Katsumoto. It then served as a mausoleum for the late Hosokawa emperors; known as the “Seven Imperial Tombs” at the Temple.
The Temple holds the famous Zen garden, kare-sansui, dry landscape. The 340 squared meters of a rectangular garden has 15 well-placed stones of differing size, carefully composed in 5 groups; a group of five stones, two groups of three, and two groups of two stones.
These boulders are surrounded by white gravel, which is carefully raked everyday by the monks. What’s noteworthy is once out of the veranda, the composition cannot be seen. What’s more, only 14 of the boulders are visible at any vantage point from the garden. Only the enlightened one will see the 15th.
Near the Zen garden, is tsukubai 蹲踞 (lit. crouch). The height of the basin forces the user to bend over to use it, thus learning reverence and humility.
“The four kanji etched on the surface are without significance when read alone. However, if read in combination with 口 (kuchi), which the central bowl is meant to represent, then the characters become 吾, 唯, 足, 知. Then, the words reveal itself. It reads, “ware, tada taru (wo) shiru” and translates literally as, “I only know (what is) enough” (吾 = ware = I, 唯 = tada = merely, only, 足 = taru = be sufficient, suffice, be enough, be worth, deserve, 知 = shiru = know).”What one has, is all one needs,” is meant to reinforce the basic anti-materialistic teachings of Buddhism. The absence of a dipper is intended to imply that the water is for the soul only and that it is necessary to bend the knee in humility in order to receive its blessing.” – wikipedia.com
The park also boasts of a restaurant specializing in Yudofu (boiled tofu), which would have been good that cold morning, but the services that day were only by reservation only.
We lingered at the Temple, waiting for the rain to subside, but no such luck. It continued pouring as we made our way to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. It was going to be a wash out, but we were not going to let the rain stop us. We hopped on the bus 59 (or 12) and stopped at Kinkaku-ji mae (front). Entrance fee was 400¥.
Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 (Golden Pavillion), also known as Rokuon-ji 鹿苑寺 Deer Garden Temple, is a Zen Buddhist temple designated as another UNESCO World Heritage site. The gold-leaf gilded Kinkaku-ji sits in the Kyouko-chi (鏡湖池 Mirror Pond), which not only contains 10 small islands but also reflects the building. “The garden grounds were built according to descriptions of the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, illustrating a harmony between heaven and earth.” – wikipedia.com
The pavilion consists of three floors of different architectural style, approximately 12.5 meters in height. The first floor, Housuin (Chamber of Dharma Waters), is styled ala Shinden-zukuri (palace style), which was designed as an open space to give emphasis to the surrounding landscape. The second floor, Chouondou (Tower of Sound Waves), is in the style of the samurai house called Buke-zukuri, which houses a Buddha Hall and a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. The third floor, Kukkyou chou is in the style of a Zen temple called Karayou. (Only the top two floors are gold leaf gilded with coating of Japanese lacquer) Atop the roof, sits a Chinese bronze phoenix.
In 1220, it was the villa of Kintsune Saionji, a powerful statesman. It later changed hands to the third Shogun of Ashikaga, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who abdicated his throne to spend his life indulging in a peaceful life transforming Kinkaku-ji. After the Shogun’s passing, the complex was converted into a Zen temple by his son. However, all the buildings in the pavilion came to ruin during the Onin war, except Kinkaku and the garden. The present pavilion was rebuilt in 1955.
Kinkaku-ji functions as a shariden, housing relics of Buddha (his ashes), and was an important model for Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion, which was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s grandson Yoshimasa, the 8th Muromachi Shogunate) and Shoukoku-ji.
The garden site is an excellent example of Muromachi period garden design; considered to be a classical age of Japanese garden design. The Muromachi period also rely heavily on visual excesses, ergo the gold-covered pavilion: used to mitigate and purify pollution or negative thoughts towards death.
Ending the tour of Kinkaku-ji, we came upon Anmin-taku pond, a pond said to never dry up. An islet sits on the pond, in the middle lies a stone pagoda called Hakuja-zuka, the white snake mound. More interestingly, nearby this pond, was some statues (stones of sorts) and a snake 蛇 hebi pot that people were throwing coins at for luck. Hubs tried his hand and landed one straight into the pot.
On our way out, and descending the mountain to our bus stop, we stopped at the little knick-knack stores selling Japanese gifts, food and wares meant for suckers like me. When the next pouring of rain came, we ran into a store for shelter (we were already drenched, “shelter” was an excuse) only to be beguiled by the cuteness and intricately woven fabric of their dolls. Turns out, we were at the Chirimen Craft Museum (ignore the last part of the museum, as it was a store, but that’s what it’s called). The sucker that I am bought into the cuteness and landed a family of bunnies (usagi うさぎ).
Chirimen, the silk fabric created, is a traditional weaving technique developed in the late 16th century in Japan. The cloth has unique feature of soft wrinkles (called shibo), “wrinkles created by alternating two types of silk thread, twisted in different directions, by turns in the weft (the thread woven). The woven piece is initially flat, but the wrinkles emerge after rinsing the dirt out of the thread.” Shibo appears because the weft (thread woven) is 10 times thicker than the warp (set of lengthwise threads). Chirimen is mostly used for finely made kimono, but in craft, small pieces of the cloth are sewn together to create small artful objects.
Wet, cold, tired and hungry, we decided to stop at a local eatery for your usual Japanese fare (just before our next bus stop at the Kinkaku-ji michi). I had oyaku-don and agedashi tofu, while hubs had an interesting udon curry dish. Warmed, dried, semi-rested and satiated, we caught the 204 (or 102) to Kinkaku-ji, with an entrance fee of 500¥.
Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 (Silver Pavilion) is a beautiful Zen Buddhist temple not actually covered in silver, designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Its construction, in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (the 8th Marumachi Shogunate, and grandson of Yoshimitsu) with plans as a retirement villa, represents the Higashiyama Culture of the time. The pavilion was modeled after his grandfather’s Kinkaku-ji, which was later converted to a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, with a rename of Jishō-ji (Yoshimasa’s Buddhist name) 慈照寺, the Temple of Shining Mercy.
The main temple structure of the pavilion is the two-storied Kannon-den 観音殿 (Kannon Hall), likened after Shariden of Kinkaku-ji. A bronze phoenix sits atop, facing east, guarding the pavilion which is a dedication to Kannon-Bosatsu (Goddess of Mercy).
Its exterior was supposed to be covered in silver foil, but with the Onin war and passing of Yoshimasa, the task was never completed. It stands today as it stood before Yoshimasa, as an unfinished, impermanent, imperfection of beauty, the epitome of the Japanese wabi-sabi 侘寂 quality.
With my mud-filled-ice-cold toes, rain-drenched dress and misery, we decided we have done enough for the day and made our way back to the hotel. The rain was not going to let up and we were beaten. As we were dropped off at the bus stop 3 blocks away from our hotel, the rain really came down hard with the winds just howling along. It was a nightmare for spineless umbrellas, which had their insides turned out, and humans whose clothes were not made waterproof. By the time we got to the entrance of the hotel, I was soaked through. We looked worse than drowned rats.
Later, much later that night, the evening news (not that we understood much), called it a freak typhoon-like weather that caught everyone by surprise. Broken umbrellas were strewn across the streets, and disheveled people still had the time to talk to the media in the wrath of mother nature.
We rested and blew dried everything in our wake, including hub’s shoes and his precious camera gear. I never quite mention this, but these were sites with massive lands. We walked, hiked, climbed, and trekked for miles on end. For people with very little, to no, exercise in their life, this was brutal. I was popping Celebrex, like eating vitamins, for my very painful arthritic ankle, which transferred to the knees, hips and then back.
As we dried, so did the skies – miraculously. We quickly packed our things, and don our clothes, and rushed out the door. There was still much to see. But we stopped at the front desk first, to borrow bigger umbrellas – just in case. (Of course, now that we are armed, it never did rain again).
We rushed to Sanjusangendo 三十三間堂, famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon (no photos are allowed). But as we got to the gate at 4:30pm, we realized they were closed (not a second too soon). This was a mistake! I tried to call out to the guards of the temple. But we just moved on.
We flagged down the next 207 and rode it to Toji Higashi monmae. We made it to To-ji temple and the knick of time, and were even given a discount (off the 500¥ fee) as a nice old man made us his last call and let us into one of the many temples there.
Tou-ji 東寺 (East Temple) is a Buddhist temple that once had a partner, the Sai-ji 西寺 (West Temple), which stood alongside the Rashomon (today merely a marker in a children’s playground), gate to the Heian capital. The three sites functioned as protection for the nation. Tou-ji is also an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The temple dates from 796, two years after the capital moved to Heian-kyou. Its pagoda stands 54.8m tall, the tallest wooden tower in Japan, rebuilt by Tokugawa Iemitsu. The various buildings at Tou-ji house a variety of ancient Buddhist sculptures.
From here, we headed to Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, (made famous by the “Memoirs of a Geisha”). Before reaching Gion Corner, we were greeted by Yasaka Shrine, host to Gion Matsuri and Kyoto’s most popular shrine (always open, with no entrance fee).
Of course our main objective was to catch a glimpse of the Geiko (Kyoto dialect of a geisha) and Maikos (apprentices) at Gion Corner (stretching from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple on Hanami-koji Street). Yes, we are such country bumpkins. Can never let us out on big cities. We were minding our own business until I spotted a crowd at a corner and asked a white man what the fuss was. They were waiting for the geishas to leave the entertainment hall. And so began the ruthless paparazzi-like behavior of all the tourists stalking about.
We could have easily gone for the Miyako Odori, Dance of the Capital, at the Gion Kobu Kaburen Theatre, to catch a glimpse of said geishas, but it was too expensive and way too civilized. Stalking them and watching other people chasing them down the street to shadow them is way more entertaining.
That night, memories and photo buckets filled, we crawled back to Cocon Karasuma to try yet another of their restaurants, Kimukatsu, or (ultra pricey) layered fried pork. This is a feat for me, as I really do not like pork. It wasn’t too bad, but definitely not worth the price we paid for it. Stumbling back to our hotel, we stopped at the bakery once again. This time we bought a bag of (unsold for the day) buns (good for our breakfast and trip back to Tokyo the next day) and a chocolate mousse cake.
We got back to our rooms and after cleaning up and packing, I could not and would not move, even if it were to safe my life. Even the mousse was left unattended.
Day 7: April 4, 2012 Wednesday
We had a few good hours before checking out (I begged the front desk for an extra hour) and catching the 1:20 pm train back to Tokyo. Carpe Diem!
The plan was to head to Kiyomizu-dera (admission fee of 300¥) and then visit the Kyoto Handicraft Center, but all the planning came to naught when time (and unforeseen shopping district of Higashiyama pops up) is a factor. Higashiyama District is only 2 kilometers long (easily a 30-minute walk). However, between Kiyomizu-dera and the shops and cafés along the way, you could easily spend half a day or more there. It was here at the Higashiyama district, the city’s best preserved historic districts, I saw our first real, fully bloomed Sakura tree. Our hearts sang, but so did the clickers on everyone’s camera.
Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺 (lit. Pure Water Temple), officially known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera 音羽山清水寺, is not only the most celebrated independent Buddhist temple of Japan but part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.
Established in 778 (the early Heian period) on the site of the Otowa (Mountain) Waterfall in the wooded hills of east Kyoto, it’s name comes from the fall’s pure waters. The present buildings were contracted in 1633 during a restoration ordered by Tokugawa Iemitsu.
It is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its Main Hall (Hondo), 13 meters along the hillside below, and offers an impressive view of the city and its surroundings. The main hall and the stage, was built without the use of a single nail. It houses the temple’s idol, an small, eleven-faced, thousand armed Kannon.
Behind the main hall stands Jishu Shrine, which is dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking, Ookuninushi 大国主. In front of the shrine, sits a pair of “love stones” placed (6 m) 20 feet apart. Legend has it, that if you successfully find your way from one to the other with your eyes closed, you will be lucky in love.
At the base of the main hall, sits Otowa Waterfall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, with wishful differing benefits: longevity, educational success and abundance of love. (In any case, drinking all three is just plain greedy).
Talking about greedy, after leaving the temple, I walked straight to an ice cream store and got myself a soft blueberry ice cream. Ice cream tastes best in the cold, because it doesn’t melt before the mouth melts it. Heaven!
And off I went looking for crafts from Kyoto, since going to the Handicraft Center was not an option (time was ticking). So we stopped at a store and bought a set of famed Kokeshi こけし dolls. The dolls are handmade from wood with a simple trunk and an enlarged head.
Dolls in one hand, ice cream in the other, and most sites visited, we headed back to check out and get to Kyoto Station. Since we were an hour early to the station, we stopped at the CUBE Mall located in the basement of the station. As hubs sat with our bags, I checked out the stores, which led me straight into Isetan’s food court. I almost fainted from the sight of food laid out in front of me. Glorious smell! Spectacular sight! I was drooling by the time I left that store, and rushed back to hubs to share the good news.
It was his turn to gallivant and when he returned, he came back with a box of weird looking bento and my taiyaki. Of all the colorful things that were out there he returns with a dull-looking box of muted concoctions that was just – blah. Sate, we rested a little bit more before begrudgingly heading to the train’s platform (no repeat of the last fiasco) and made our journey back to Tokyo.
Even though mother nature wasn’t at its best behavior, I felt and saw your history, beauty, tranquility and unity with nature. Kyoto, you are a wonder and deserve to be preserved! Thank you, Kyoto, for such a warm inviting stay. Thank you for your care. Iroiro arigatou gozaimashita. O sewa ni narimashita. 色々ありがとう御座いました。お世話になりました。
Sayonara, Kyoto. Kore wa sarabada ja nai. さよなら, 京都. これわさらばだじゃない。