A Few Hours In Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji

On Sunday morning, after I was done at the Osaka Aquarium, I took the JR West Special Rapid train, which takes just under half an hour to go from Osaka to Kyoto.   From there, a short ride on the Kyoto City Bus took me to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion.  Kinkaku-ji is a Buddhist temple, formally named Rokuon-ji Temple.  It has been named a World Cultural Heritage Site since 1994.

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Visitors can see the Golden Pavilion from a small distance, but cannot actually walk inside.  The view in the first picture is really as close as you get.   The golden hue of Kinkaku-ji is gold foil on lacquer, covering the upper two levels of the shrine.  According to the tourist brochure given to visitors, each level is a different style of architecture: The first level is in the shinden style of the 11th century aristocracy, the second level is in buke style of the warrior aristocracy, and the top level is in the Chinese zenshu-butsuden style.  A golden phoenix stands atop the roof.

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After I was done walking around Kinkaku-ji’s small pond and garden, I decided to walk to another nearby shrine, Ryoanji Temple.  The distance was a little bit more than one mile, and it was a pleasant walk.  Thank goodness for navigational robots on smartphones, though- without them, I never would have believed I was going the right way.

At the end of that mile, I found the main drive to Ryoan-ji, and it was filled with buses for students on a field trip of some sort.  I walked to Kuri, the main building of the temple, stepped inside, and took off my shoes.

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Most of the students from the buses outside were sitting in front of the rock garden, said to be created around 1500.  This rectangular Zen garden is twenty-five meters from east to west, and ten meters from south to north.  It contains no trees; only fifteen rocks and white gravel are inside the boiled clay walls.

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Ryoan-ji was destroyed by fire during the Onin War, and was rebuilt in 1499.

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The gardens around the main building of the temple are very quiet and green.

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Like Kinkaku-ji, Ryoan-ji was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1994.

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While Kyoto is very large, I only had enough time to visit these two beautiful sites in the northern part of the city.  After a pleasant mile long walk back to the original bus route, I returned to the Kyoto train station to get my final Shinkansen train back to Tokyo.

Naturally, there was live music happening in the train station.  This sort of thing seems to happen wherever I go.  They might even have been the same group I’d seen the previous morning in Hiroshima.

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Have you ever been to Kyoto?  Do you have a favorite shrine?

Sanja Matsuri at Senso-ji

On the 16th of May, the first full Saturday after my arrival to Japan, I traveled to Asakusa to see the famed temple Senso-ji.    Founded in the year 645, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.  I arrived to Asakusa expecting to find a serene place for contemplation, and stumbled right into the middle of Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals.   I noticed right away that the streets were blocked off to vehicles, but I didn’t know yet that this was unusual.

I was following the little map robot on my phone, and it told me to walk down this street.  I only got about ten paces in before I turned back to go a less crowded way.   What I didn’t know until later was that this covered walkway is the Nakamise arcade, a popular covered breezeway full of shops and restaurants.

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Every street I walked down while in Asakusa was lined in lanterns for the festival.  At this point in the day, I still had no idea what was going on.  Also, I really like this woman’s shark shaped backpack.

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As I got closer to the temple, I encountered thicker and thicker crowds.   Of course in a crowd this large, it’s completely appropriate to spot Waldo.

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After some walking, I caught my first glimpse of the temple.

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I walked in through Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate,” and found myself facing statues of Raijin (god of thunder) and Fujin (god of wind).  It is not at all clear to me which is which.   You can see Tokyo Skytree behind the statues here, and I could easily have seen Senso-ji from Skytree, if I had been there on a clear day.

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This is the point at which I realized that this might not be normal tourism.   I still didn’t know that it was a major festival, however.

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I walked up as close as I could, even making it to the stairs beneath the enormous paper lantern in this photo.

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Here’s a closer shot of the paper lantern.

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However, the inside of the temple was fenced off with this mesh.  I could look, but I could not enter.  There are several Buddhists inside conducting a ritual, but I don’t know more than that.

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Moving away from the main temple gates, I walked around to the side, where stalls selling merchandse and traditional food rested beneath more paper lanterns.

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Walking back down toward Thunder Gate, I noticed another incense burner.  I like the smell of these things, but it was very warm.

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When I walked back toward the train station, I found the main street to be significantly more crowded than when I first arrived.  This is one of the biggest parts of Sanja Matsuri!

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The giant metal and wood construct being held up here is called a Mikoshi.   The Mikoshi pictured here is one of three which are built to act as miniature and portable versions of Asakusa Shrine.  They contain representations of Kami, the spirits, gods and deities of Japan’s Shinto religion.

The Mikoshi are tremendously heavy, and they are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes by a Mikoshi team of about 40 people.  The Mikoshi team has a uniform, with a Happi coat and Tabi boots.  The team bounces it up and down, as a show of strength and teamwork.

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Mikoshi are usually carried around the neighborhood so that the Kami inside can see the neighborhood. It’s considered good luck for the area. Afterwards, the Mikoshi is brought back to the shrine.

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I watched the Mikoshi for a while, then I grabbed a burger before I headed back to Kanda.  Several of my colleagues who had previously visited Tokyo mentioned that they really enjoyed Mos Burger.  It wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best burger I had while I was in Japan.

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Have you ever seen Sanja Matsuri?  Have you ever seen a Mikoshi being carried? Have you ever eaten at Mos Burger?

Zojo-ji and the East Imperial Garden

On the day that I visited Tokyo Tower, I also took a short walk from there to visit Zojo-ji.

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This Buddhist temple, founded in 1393, is the main temple of the Chinzei branch of Jōdo-shū Buddhism.

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The proximity of Tokyo Tower makes for from pretty amazing views.

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This stairwell is actually on a path just outside of the main gate.

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This is the same building pictured earlier, the main hall of the temple.

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Off to one side of the courtyard is what’s called an “Unborn Children Garden.”

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These rows of statues represent the unborn children of Japan, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn children.

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Parents often choose a statue in the garden to decorate with clothing or toys.  They often leave a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children to ensure that they are brought to the afterlife.

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Incense was burning in the courtyard.  It smelled very nice.

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There were nice statues around the courtyard as well.

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Near the exit, ice cream was on sale. It was warm, but not quite warm enough to try the green flavor.

 

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One of my favorite things about Japan was how often you found the older structures nestled among newer construction.  Once you walk through that  gate, the dial is set  back to city.

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Speaking of old things, I took some time to look at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace.  You can tell it’s a palace because there’s a moat!  This is the Seimon Ishibashi bridge, approaching the main gate.

 

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The hard plastic entry token was printed in Japanese on one side and English on the other-  I had to turn it back in when I left.  I suspect that’s how they control crowd volume.

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The East Garden houses the administrative buildings for the palace, and it also includes some older historical buildings from the Edo period.

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Also, there’s fish statues.

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This was a guard house of some sort.  Regrettably, I have misplaced my notes about this structure.

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This was living quarters for samurai, if I remember correctly.

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The East Garden is vast and winding, and quite pretty.

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This isn’t far from the heart of the Otemachi financial district, but you’d never know it.

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This stone is similar to one which marks the place where the 47 Ronin story began.

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I only saw a tiny fraction of the full Imperial Gardens, and my memory of what the buildings mean is terribly flawed.  If I find my notes from that day, I will come back later to update this post with more accurate detail.

Have you ever been to the Imperial Palace Gardens?