Serenity can be found in negative space, and the Japanese sure know how to use it to it’s full potential.
Our day consisted of Buddhist temple followed by another Buddhist temple followed by a Zen temple complex to be finished off with a Shinto Temple. Although each one varied, what strung them together was beauty. The mixture of rocks and plants, the symmetry and intricacies of the architecture, and the play between the two created unparalleled spaces. One could sit there for hours amidst the gardens, undisturbed, the only things bringing one back to the real world being the bitter cold kiss of the wind.
The end of the day brought us to Gion, a district in Kyoto. Stepping into this neighborhood is like stepping back in time. Traditional houses line the lanes and the small river bubbling through. Little drapes within the doorways mark restaurants, and the wetted pavement in front symbolizes their adherence to cleanliness and their customers’ wishes. Red lanterns light store fronts, and women in kimonos bustle along the sidewalk.
Bought take home sushi and juice for dinner. Still way exhausted from yesterday and all the walking we did today. Pictures and more details to come!
Sanjusangen-do, more widely known as the temple with the 1001 Kannons (Buddha), was the first stop in our first full day of touring Kyoto. The longest wooden building in the world, this historical and spiritual gem houses wooden figures of Kannon as far as the eye can see. In the center, a larger figure sits upon a lotus flower as pilgrims light incense in prayer. I myself lit a candle earlier in the hall. Outside, the gardens although small are still beautiful and worth exploring. The water features bring a serene sense to the area.
A walking tour with a local guide brought us to one of the many Buddhist temples scattered throughout the city. After a brief visit, he brought us to a Zen temple, complete with the famous Zen gardens. Set among leafless maples (which apparently are at peak colorfulness two weeks prior to our December arrival), Tofukuji Temple rises magnificently above the gravel paths surrounding it. One great building features a dragon on the ceiling. Our guide said people believe this practice helps prevent fires — a great enemy of wooden buildings that has caused the loss of buildings like these in the past.
A walk through a typical Kyoto neighborhood (space efficient houses, well kept gardens, and webs of power lines) brought us to Fushimi Inari Taisha: Shrine of the 1000 Tori gates. For each gate there seemed to be a tourist clamoring to get their next profile picture within them. Although there were some spaces and moments of relief within the crowds. I can’t imagine what this place would be like during peak season, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to be there with the heat and crowds. We didn’t have enough time to head up to the top of the mountain, but it is on my list for next time we visit.
A short train ride to the Gion district and we stepped into a different world. One reminiscent of old Japan, at least the one seen in the movies. Wooden houses with slats, restaurants with red curtains draped across the doorway, big red lanterns lighting the way, all add to an ambience of simpler times and romance. The scene of these buildings against a river with a bridge in the background and the soft, flickering glow of willow leaves in the street light made it hard to believe this place was actually real. But it was. And unfortunately it was impossible to catch on film, though I doubt anything could honestly reproduce the sentiment this place was able to affect.
Tired, we decided to walk back to the hotel, stopping at a local sushi joint for take away to enjoy back in our hotel room.