Land of a Thou­sand Tem­ples

Ja­pan is popular for its cul­ture and tra­di­tions; de­spite ur­ban­i­sa­tion that has changed some ci­ties into mod­ern me­trop­o­lises, there is one place that re­mains charm­ing and nos­tal­gic as ever: the city of Ky­oto.

Maxx-M - - 360º - Text and pho­tos by Den­nis Latif

Ky­oto is fa­mously known for its nat­u­ral beauty and his­tor­i­cal build­ings, from cen­turiesold tem­ples, beau­ti­ful palaces and pavil­ions to tra­di­tional mar­kets. I trav­elled to Ky­oto in early April, when the weather was still cold but the sun shone brightly with the sweet smell of spring. The city was packed with tourists from all over the world: no sur­prise as it was cherry blos­som sea­son. I was stay­ing in Ky­oto for three days and two nights, so I pur­chased a two­day tourist pass to make my trip eas­ier. The Ky­oto Tourist 1-Day or 2-Day Pass is a card that al­lows the user to ride on city bus­esor sub­ways in Ky­oto as much as they like, which is a great way to ex­plore the city. It is said that Ky­oto is a land of a thou­sand tem­ples; it is quite true as many tem­ples, ei­ther stand alone or are ad­ja­cent to old palaces or pavil­ions. Here are some of the his­tor­i­cal at­trac­tion sin Ky­oto worth a visit:

1. CHION-INTEMPLE

One of the most beau­ti­ful and im­pres­sive tem­ples in Ky­oto in my opin­ion. I even stayed near the place to en­joy the serene at­mos­phere and beau­ti­ful scenery. Chion-In Tem­ple is said to be the head tem­ple of the Jodo-shu (Pure Land Sect) of Bud­dhism, and the San­mon Gate of Chion-In is the largest in Ja­pan, even though it was built in the 17th cen­tury. Do not for­get to take a look at Amida Hall be­sides the hondo houses for a beau­ti­ful golden statue of Bud­dha. One spe­cial fea­ture of this tem­ple is the cor­ri­dor lead­ing from the Main Hall to the Assem­bly Hall, called the uguisub­ari or nightin­gale floor, con­structed in such a way that the wooden floor will “sing” (creak ac­tu­ally) at ev­ery foot­step, as a warn­ing of in­trud­ers, a kind of se­cu­rity fea­ture back in the old days. There is a big stair­way at the en­trance to the tem­ple and a vast, green, beau­ti­ful gar­den in the sur­round­ing area, pro­duc­ing a re­ally sooth­ing view. Most of th­ese tem­ples are very large and im­pres­sive, but be pre­pared to meet bus­loads of tourists, some of the buses even stop­ping within the tem­ple com­pound. Another in­ter­est­ing fact about this place is that in Oc­to­ber 2012, Chion-In Tem­ple was used in the film­ing of the

Tom Cruise movie, The Last Sa­mu­rai. Open 9 am to 4.10 pm to en­ter the Hojo Gar­den. En­try fee: En­try to the tem­ple is free but you have to pay 400 yen to en­ter the Hojo Gar­den.

2. GINKAKU-JITEMPLE

Also known as the Sil­ver Pav­il­lion, this el­e­gant tem­ple is a world cul­tural her­itage site. Set in beau­ti­ful grounds at the foot of Ky­oto’s east­ern moun­tains. Ginkaku-ji Tem­ple area is an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of fine Ja­panese land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture. Although known as the Sil­ver Pavil­ion, the Ginkaku-ji Tem­ple was never gilded in sil­ver, and the main tem­ple build­ing re­mains un­painted brown due to the Onin war. Some­how, in its own way, the build­ing ex­em­pli­fies the Ja­panese idea that some­thing plain can be beau­ti­ful. I found the area more serene and calm than the Golden Pavil­ion, es­pe­cially the gar­dens, which are de­signed to be beau­ti­ful in ev­ery sea­son. An in­ter­est­ing fact about this tem­ple is that it has three names, Ginkaku-ji Tem­ple, Sil­ver Pav­il­lion and Zen Tem­ple. Open 8.30 am to 5 pm En­try fee: 500 yen

3. KINKAKU-JITEMPLE

Fa­mously known as the Golden Pavil­ion. Like many of Ky­oto’s tem­ples, this was orig­i­nally the site of a pri­vate villa, but it was con­verted to a tem­ple at the very start of the 15th cen­tury by the son of Shogun Ashik­aga Yoshim­itsu, as a memo­rial to his fa­ther. Golden Pavil­ion ac­quired that name be­cause the in­te­rior is cov­ered in gold leaf (a popular coat­ing of choice of the rich in old-time Ja­pan) both inside and out, and is topped with a golden phoenix. Kinkaku-ji Tem­ple over­looks a large pond in which it is beau­ti­fully re­flected. I were there at around 4 pm and the struc­ture was stun­ningly lit by the late af­ter­noon sun. The tem­ple is pho­to­geni­cally pretty, but do not ex­pect to have it all by your­self as there are many tourists around. After view­ing the Golden Pavil­ion from most sides, I fol­lowed a path that led me around the rest of the gar­dens; it was land­scaped in a very nat­u­ral way, with a va­ri­ety of trees, bam­boo, mosses and a stream. One of the most in­ter­est­ing parts of the gar­den is the statue, which func­tions as a guardian near the exit, where the lo­cals try to toss a coin into a small cup to ful­fil their wishes. Open 9 am to 5 pm. En­try fee: 400 JPY.

4. PHILOSO­PHER’S PATH

The Philoso­pher’s Path is named after Pro­fes­sor Nishida Ki­taro (1870 -1945), one of Ja­pan’s most fa­mous philoso­phers. He used to med­i­tate on the mean­ing of life as he walked along this route on his com­mute to Ky­oto Univer­sity ev­ery day. This stone path is ap­prox­i­mately two kilo­me­tres long, be­gin­ning around the Ginkakuji-Tem­ple and end­ing in the neigh­bor­hood of Nanzenji, but you can de­part from it at any time as there are sign­posts to lots of nearby tem­ples and shrines, in­clud­ing the Kinkaku-ji Tem­ple and Heian Shrine. The Philoso­pher’s Path is best ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing cherry blos­som sea­son, when hun­dreds of cherry trees bloom along the line of a nar­row canal, cre­at­ing an oth­er­worldly at­mos­phere just as in a paint­ing. There are plenty of places to stop off to pur­chase sou­venirs or have re­fresh­ments. It took a while for me to fin­ish the route be­cause of all the stops along the way.

5. KIY­OMIZU-DERATEMPLE

This tem­ple, with­out a doubt, is the most vis­ited in Ky­oto. I could eas­ily see why peo­ple gather around Kiy­omizu-dera Tem­ple: Be­sides its lo­ca­tion near enough the cen­tre of the town, Kiy­omizu-dera Tem­ple has a lovely hill­side set­ting with views of the town and sev­eral other nearby pago­das and tem­ples. The unique fea­ture of this place is the plat­form or ve­randa that juts out on one side of the main hall, around 13 me­tres above the hill­side be­low. There are lots of in­ter­est­ing spots to take pic­tures at this place, the stun­ning main gate known as Nio-mon, the three-sto­ried pagoda, and many other in­ter­est­ing struc­tures that sur­round the main tem­ple hall. Another area es­pe­cially worth ex­plor­ing is beyond the main hall. A wind­ing path leads past sev­eral small refreshment booths and the wa­ter foun­tain that gives Kiy­omizu-dera its name, which means “pure wa­ter tem­ple”. Three sep­a­rate foun­tains drop wa­ter into the pool be­low this area, and to drink the wa­ter is be­lieved to be­stow spe­cial bless-

ings, each foun­tain giv­ing a dif­fer­ent one – long life, suc­cess in ca­reer or in love. One of the most in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties not to miss at this tem­ple is to ex­pe­ri­ence the Tanai-me­guri. I was asked for 100 yen as a do­na­tion, and to re­move my shoes and put them in a plas­tic bag that I car­ried as I en­tered the shrine. I was in­structed to hold on to the rope handrail as I en­tered and I soon re­alised why: The path through the shrine is in to­tal dark­ness. Then I learnt that the idea of this ‘jour­ney’ is to rep­re­sent the womb of the fe­male bod­hisattva, so we are re­turn­ing to a pre­birth state and to re­flect on our life in to­tal dark­ness. At the cen­ter of the shrine a lit­tle light fell on a large stone, which you spin and make a wish at be­fore as­cend­ing through more dark­ness un­til you emerge, blink­ing, into the bright light of day. Open 6 am to 6 pm En­try fee: 300 yen

6.YASAKA SHRINE

This is prob­a­bly one of the most ac­ces­si­ble shrines for tourists to visit in Ky­oto due to its prox­im­ity to Gion, a fa­mous area in Ky­oto. Lo­cated next to Maruyama Park, Yasaka Shrine, for­merly known as Gion Shrine, was built to wor­ship the ox­headed God that pro­tects against dis­ease, epi­demic and dis­as­ters. It was not hard to spot this beau­ti­ful shrine, es­pe­cially in view of its large orange gate over­look­ing Shijo, the main av­enue through Gion, and at night when most of build­ings in this shrine are lit with large, white pa­per lanterns. It was spir­i­tual, peace­ful and beau­ti­ful at the same time. The place is surely worth a visit, but the only thing that dis­tract­ing the scenery when I was there place was a bunch of black ravens around the shrine, prob­a­bly be­cause I am not a big raven fan at all. This is a Shinto Shrine where the world fa­mous Gion Mat­suri (Gion Fes­ti­val) is usu­ally held.

No en­try fee

I think the peo­ple who lived in Ky­oto are the luck­i­est, es­pe­cially in the cherry blos­som sea­son when the trees are filled with pink cherry flower petals, cre­at­ing im­pres­sive nat­u­ral scenery and the sweet smell of spring. This is def­i­nitely a re­mark­able city that I shall visit again and again.

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