To read about day 1, click here.
*Please note: the embedded videos do not appear in HD. Click on the titles to view them in better detail on my YouTube channel.
We were very busy on our first full day in beautiful Kyōto. Hana Hostel rents bicycles for ¥500/day, so we took advantage of this and biked around a large eastern section of the city for most of the day.
There are over 800 photos from the trip. For the most part, the ones we select to share will be posted on Mike’s blog; I’ll be taking care of the videos.
Our first stop was 三十三間堂 (Sanjūsangendō).
A national treasure, the temple was built in 1164 but was lost in a fire. Reconstructed in 1266, the current temple has been standing for over 750 years. The name (sanjūsan means 33 in Japanese) comes from the 33 spaces in between each column of the temple.
After wandering grounds that held archery contests hundreds of years ago, we entered the temple. You can read about these historic sites plenty, but nothing compares to walking barefoot on たたみ (tatami: woven bamboo flooring) through a wooden hallway of exquisite detail and architecture, sunlight filtering in through paper windows, and your senses enveloped in incense as you gaze upon a seemingly endless display of 1,001 golden Kannon, each with a different face. It’s truly amazing. I’m still at a loss to properly convey the tranquility of such a place.We thrust ourselves back onto the modern streets of Kyōto, a stark contrast to the quiet, serene Sanjūsangendo, to bike north to 清水寺 (Kiyomizudera).
We stopped to get some たこ焼き (takoyaki: octopus balls, a food famous in nearby Ōsaka) and からあげ (karaage: fried chicken) after seeing this cute little kitty:
On our way up a mountain path bordered by a step-cliff cemetery with hundreds of graves up to Kiyomizudera we stumbled upon many more cats in what Mike has named ねこじ (nekoji: cat temple).Tearing ourselves away from the mraos, we continued our trek to Kiyomizudera. Part of the reason this was our busiest day was because of the amount of time it takes to walk the grounds of the temples themselves. Kiyomizudera, nestled into the side of a mountain, takes quite a bit of time to traverse.
One of Kyōto’s many Buddhist temples, Kiyomizudera is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally built in 798, but the current buildings are from 1633.
Next on the agenda was Ryozen Kannon. Built in 1955, the statue of a compassionate bodhisattva is a memorial to soldiers killed in World War II. Expecting to see a carving slightly larger than life-size, imagine the awe inspired by a structure the size of a small mountain.
As we rounded the parking lot of the area, suddenly and impressively an enormous white bodhisattva looked out from the mountains over Kyōto. It measures 80 feet high and weighs about 500 tons.
“All honor to him, friend or foe,
Who fought and died for his country!
May the tragedy of his supreme
Sacrifice bring to us, the living,
Enlightenment and inspiration;
Fill us with ever-mounting zeal
For the all-compelling quest of peace,
World peace and universal brotherhood.“
– inscription on the monument.
As we placed the incense included with our entrance ticket, a monk came out to chat with us and tell us to go up the stairs. Where did the stairs go? Inside the massive Kannon statue:
The third stop of the day was 高台寺 (Kodaiji). Unfortunately I can’t remember much of this temple and have no videos, so enjoy the history printed on the front of the pamphlet:
“It was established in 1605 by the noblewoman Kita-n0-Mandokoro in memory or her late husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98). Kodaiji’s construction was extensively financed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hideyoshi’s chief vassal and later Shogun of Japan… Kodaiji was ravaged by a series of fires after 1789, and all that survive [are five of its original buildings]… Kita-no-Mandokoro was awarded the highest rank of nobility by Emperor Goyozei in 1588, and in 1603 was accorded the honorary name Kodai-in… Following the custom among noble lades of her time, she became a Buddhist nun after the death of her husband and adopted the religious name Kogetsu-ni. She died at the age of 76 on September 6, 1624.”
Luckily, there’s a video from the next stop. At the entrance of Nanzenji was Sanmon, a well-known structure in Japan. Symbolizing the three roads to Buddhist liberation by way of its three entrances, it’s also one of the three biggest gates of this kind in all of Japan. It was built in 1296, burnt, and rebuilt in 1628. This is the view from the top of the steep set of stairs we climbed to get to the top:
Nanzenji was a palace built by Emperor Kameyama in 1264 that he converted to a Zen Buddhist temple 27 years later. Like many structures, it was lost in a fire (1393) and restored by the mother of Shogun Tsunayoshi in 1703. A portion of Kameyama’s ashes are buried in a corner of the garden that remains from the original construction.
The seventh and final historical visit of the day was the beautiful 平安神宮 (Heian Jingu). Down the road from an enormous torii, this temple contains (as you might guess) Heian-period architecture. As we’d been biking and walking the whole day, I was considerably tired at our last stop and almost passed up the gardens. Boy, am I glad I didn’t. There were amazing, and are among my top picks of favorite things in Kyōto. Enjoy the many videos I made:
Then I ate a $400 dinner.