Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kyoto Finale

On our last morning in Kyoto we got up early, hit Starbucks which was just down from our hotel, I made my purchase of a Kyoto Starbucks mug (so much for all the shopping tips I’d copied over …), and we headed off to the Kyoto station to stash our luggage before catching the train to Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine.

Fushimi Inari
We arrived around 8:30 and the shrine area was deserted – we’d had excellent advice that in order to enjoy this famous shrine you needed to get there early. For those of you who may have seen the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” Fushimi Inari was the background for the scene where Sayuri was running through the red torii gates. If you take the path all the way to the top of Mt. Inari you will pass through more than 10,000 red torii gates that have been donated by devotees. Inari is the fox deity who mediates between the human and the spirit world. The fox statues flank either side of the torii gates as you begin the journey through the 10,000 gates – they come in pairs, representing a male and female and they hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath their front paw, often a jewel or a scroll. Some of the foxes along the way were adorned with a red votive bib (yokarekake) that were placed on the foxes by worshippers out of respect. We had another lovely day, it was early and the light streaming through and hitting the vermilion gates was beautiful. The walk up the 2 mile path was an easy one, birds calling, incense wafting through the air … we should have called it a morning and left our last visit in Kyoto on a high note but instead we decided to cram in one more temple …

Kiyomizu Temple
The Kiyomizu Temple was built in 798 and this is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Its name, which means “Temple of Pure Water” comes from the fact that there is a spring on the grounds. Passing through the throngs of school groups, after hiking up the road that leads to the temple, we finally arrive at the main hall which was built in 1633 – without the use of a single nail. The main hall clings to the side of the hill, with large balcony’s hanging out over the tree tops. It was a Monday morning and maybe that accounted for the masses – and I suppose we were very lucky to have not encountered such large groups at the other temples – but it was hard to enjoy the splendor of the place with so many people. It felt much more like a carnival atmosphere than a temple.

Otowa-no-Taki (Otowa Falls)
Since ancient times it has been thought that the water flowing over this small waterfall in the temple grounds possess divine powers – there was quite a line for the priviledge of filling your cup with water but Jeff and Wrenn decided to wait it out. The water has alleged powers for good health, wealth, or studies – I'm guessing Wrenn is hoping for help with her studies and well Jeff ... I know which one he should be picking but am thinking he went for the other option.

Lover’s Stone
Behind the main hall and up some stone steps are two stones where it is said that if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, your wish for love will come true. Many, many school kids were doing this and after skeptically observing for a while the Cleary kids decided to give it a whirl … I think more for the challenge of being able to walk from one stone to the other without any help from the siblings than for love. All three were successful and the parental units managed to bite their tongues and not inquire about possible love interests … (I am so not ready to go there). Maybe the best time to visit this temple is in the Fall or Winter when there is no haze and you can enjoy the view or perhaps very early or very late in the day when the crowds have dissipated. The architectural achievement of the main building was amazing, there’s no getting around that, but the crowds put a damper on our last temple. Of course all the other temples we had visited centered around gardens … so that could have been some of our disappointment, or maybe we had finally hit what is called “temple fatigue.”

So that was the end of our Kyoto tour … we walked back down the hill, hopped on a city bus which took us over to the main Kyoto station where we grabbed our luggage, some lunch and headed for the next leg of our trip to Hiroshima. Kyoto was wonderful, we had such fabulous weather it made the long days easier to take. We had a glimpse of a Maiko in the Gion district our second night but overhearing some other’s talking on the street we were not really sure she was the real thing – she had a camera crew following her and there was mention that they were filming an ad. Either way, she was beautiful and unfortunately with the early evening light my photo turned out a big blur. The city itself is easy to get around using public transportation, a tour may have been nice but I think we managed just fine on our own. I hope we can go back, there’s still so much I’d like to see – more temple gardens, and of course shopping. Check out the next two entries … Miya Jima Island and Hiroshima that conclude our 5 day whirlwind trip in southern Honshu. Till next time, sayonara.

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