Sunday, November 15, 2009

Japan '08: Kyoto II

Canal next to Tetsugaku no Michi, the Path of Philosophy.

At this point in our Japan adventure, my group left western and central Kyoto and headed towards the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) district, by way of Tetsugaku no Michi (the Path of Philosophy) and city bus. Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, is located at one terminus of Tetsugaku no Michi. Ginkaku-ji was established in 1482 as a retirement home for Yoshimasa Ashikaga, and became a center for Higashiyama culture, which was the forerunner to modern Japanese civilization.

The approach to Ginkakuji; persimmon tree with fruit at right.

We had some fried fish cake type thingies from a stand along the street leading up to Ginkaku-ji. That was a pretty decent lunch, but again, I regret not getting to a real restaurant for some more serious Kyoto food.

Looking west towards Kyoto over Ginkaku-ji. Kannonden at left, and roof of Tougudou at lower right.

The Silver Pavilion itself, technically called Kannonden but normally referred to as Ginkaku-ji, was under renovation when I was there, and covered up with scaffolding. It's not actually covered in precious metal, unlike Kinkaku-ji, and "silver" seems to refer to the white sand sculptures on the grounds.

Gardens at Ginkaku-ji.

The gardens at Ginkaku-ji were probably the most beautiful that I have seen in Japan; the trees, rocks, streams and ponds form an understated work of art around the temple buildings.

Ginkaku-ji moss display.

The moss gardens at Ginkaku-ji are especially fine, and there is funny little display of the local species in one corner of the grounds, divided up into special mosses that are carefully encouraged, and ordinary mosses that form the background or are weeded out as needed. There were several gardeners actively tending the moss, wearing slippers. We had to call one of these guys for help when my friend Ray managed to drop his camera memory card off the path and down a steep slope.

Outen-mon, the Heian Shrine main gate.

A bit south and west of Ginkaku-ji, more out in the city, is Heian-jingu, one of the largest Shinto shrines in Kyoto. It is actually a scale replica constructed in 1894 of Chodo-in, a building that existed in the Heian Era in Kyoto, about 1200 years ago.

Naka Shin'en (Middle Garden), behind the main Heian-jingu shrine buildings.

For a small fee, you can tour the gardens that surround the main shrine plaza and buildings. The gardens are in the Meiji Era style of the late nineteenth century. Heian Shrine is right in the middle of a busy part of Kyoto, but the gardens seemed isolated and peaceful.

Heian-jingu gardens at sunset, Taihei-kaku bridge at right.

My camera batteries gave out right after getting the above photo, looking west over the Heian-jingu gardens towards the shrine buildings.

Kiyomizu Temple entryway, early morning.

For the final day in Kyoto, the only activity was to see Kiyomizu-dera, which was just up the street from our ryokan. Kiyomizu is a Buddhist temple founded in 780 CE around a spring on the site (the name means "clear water"). Many of the current buildings date to 1633. We got any early start, though we weren't exactly waiting at the gates when the monks opened up at 6:00 AM.

Kiyomizu Dera.

It is probably a good idea to get to Kiyomizu early in the day, in order to get relatively uncluttered photos of Japan's most famous view.

Iron sandals and staves on the Kiyomizu deck.

There is a display of training equipment for the monks at Kiyomizu Temple, with iron sandals and two staves which visitors can attempt to lift. I couldn't budge the larger staff; did the monks really walk around with that?

Otowa no Taki, the waterfalls from the Kiyomizu spring.

I braved the line at the Kiyomizu spring to sample the water, which is supposed to have beneficial effects, depending upon which stream you drink from. You take a cup with a long handle from a UV sterilizer in order to retrieve some water; I'm not sure if I got the health, longevity or wisdom water. Maybe there's a spring that grants the strength to lift a staff that contains more metal than a Ford Explorer.

Tea house on the Kiyomizu grounds.

We stopped for refreshments at a tea house at Kiyomizu. I had zenzai, which is a sweet soup involving red beans and a chunk of mochi (rice cake); it's a cool-weather food.

Jishu-jinja gate.

Jishu-jinja is a Shinto shrine located within the Kiyomizu Buddhist temple complex; there wasn't any obvious way to even reach it without walking through Kiyomizu.

"Love fortune-telling stone" in Jishu-jinja.

The main attraction at Jishu Shrine is a pair of stones set into the pavement, a fair distance apart. These are labeled koi uranai no ishi (love fortune-telling stones); if you can walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, your romantic hopes will become reality, apparently. That sounds like an anime plot device, and the love stones have indeed turned up in a few shows.

Pagoda on hill south of Kiyomizu-dera.

After a short walk to the ridge to the south you can visit a small pagoda, which is prominently visible in the view from the Kiyomizu deck.

Ferns on the Higashiyama forest floor.

It was nice to get out into the woods for a little while, though the old cedars had been thinned out quite a bit to make way for new plantings of cherry trees, since the last time I was at Kiyomizu, back in the '90s. There were lots of interesting ferns in the forest understory, including the ones here, probably a Gleichenia at upper left and maybe (?) Asplenium at center.

Kyoto Station bentou box.

After Kiyomizu, we gathered up our stuff at the Ryokan, and headed to Kyoto Station to catch the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) back to Tokyo. I grabbed a tasty Kyoto-style autumn box lunch on the way to the train. Some of the assorted Tokyo sightseeing that I wrote about in earlier installments actually happened after the return from Kyoto, but there was only one full day left in the trip by this point, and it felt like my time in Japan was rapidly vanishing.

Shinkansen arriving at Kyoto Station.

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