On our fourth day in Kyōto we resolved to see places close to our hostel: Kyōto Gosho, Nijo-ji, Higashi Honganji, and Nishi Honganji.
Visitors need to apply in advance to be admitted to Kyōto Gosho (aka Kyōto Imperial Palace, though no one lives there now). Unfortunately, our application wasn’t accepted so we relinquished to wandering the grounds which contain a large park. It was a bit disappointing to only walk up to a gate in front of a palace instead of entering it, especially since we got to see so much on our second day.
If I was sour about Kyōto Gosho, Nijō-jō (Nijo Castle) cheered me right up. An impressive moat surrounds the former vacation castle for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Built not as a fortress but a show of wealth and status, the structure is beautiful.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fortifications, however. Nijō-jō is famous for its “nightingale floor,” a wooden floor that chirpss when walked upon to alert castle-dwellers to intruders. There were also secret rooms behind panel doors marked with decorative orange ropes for bodyguards.
What’s more, you’re allowed to take photos:
We wanted to go to Nijo-jinya next. The only thing out-of-the-ordinary visible from the street is that it looks a bit older and more traditional than its contemporary surroundings. In reality, it’s a home fitted with secret passages and trap doors that ensured the safety of important guests (such as feudal lords) visiting the nearby palace. When we heard they give tours, I couldn’t wait to go. Unfortunately, they closed in 2009 for renovations and won’t reopen until the year I leave Japan.
As rich as Japan is in temples and shrines, the majority of the population is not very religious. In fact, many people subscribe to ideas from several belief systems, be it Buddhism, Shintou, or a close affinity with nature. In short, foreigners aren’t the only ones visiting these historic, beautiful places just to enjoy the ambiance.
It was at Nishi and Higashi Honganji that I first experienced proactive religion. For one, there TVs and chairs set up in Nishi Honganji, evidence that people actually worship there. And, in Higashi Honganji we got to witness a bit of an actual ceremony. I can’t remember which one it was at, but a monk took a picture for us and another monk offered to give us a tour of the whole place. Really nice guys.
Nishi Honganshi also gave me a detailed pamphlet explaining the core principles of their sect of Buddhism. It omits the fact that the separation of the two sects was a political move by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Threatened by the mounting popularity of the temple, he engineered a rift in Jodo Shinshu in 1602.
Mike promises a post with photos from the day soon. He’s been pretty swamped with work, and this is his birthday week after all, so he gets a free pass. Hope you’re all doing well. Thanks for reading.
Mike’s post, as promised: http://mvbennett.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/kyoto-day-4-kyoto-gosho-nijojo/