It’s time to switch gears from modern, pop Tokyo to ancient, spiritual Kyoto. Kyoto was Japan’s capital until the end of the shogun feudal period when the Emperor consolidated power and moved to Tokyo in 1869. It remains the biggest tourist attraction in Japan even more so during Cherry blossom season, which lasts for several weeks in spring. We’ve come too late for the peak, but there are the late blooming cherry’s and TONS of dogwoods.
Tokyo and Disney were probably the longest string of hard walking days we’ve ever done – 6 days in a row of 8-12 hour treks. Even after yesterday’s ‘easy’ day the girls sleep in, and for the first time this trip, I have to wake them up at 8:30 so we can get our day’s touring in. They get up chipper, eager and refreshed.
My goal is to see five of the top temples today, few of which are very close together. Kyoto has decent public transportation, though not as good as Tokyo of course. Our first temple, Kinkaku-ji, requires a bus ride. Riding buses is always scary in a foreign language. Stops are rarely announced. Traffic and construction changes routes frequently and unprinted fares always seem to require exact change you don’t have.
This one is simple though, especially with the aid of the portable wifi from the AirBnB. We were given mobile wifi devices as part of our package at each apartment, but I’d just rent one from the airport next time. It’s so essential for Japan.
Kinkakaju is the most photographed temple, and maybe the most well known as well. The ‘Temple of the golden pavillion” sits on a pond, with some of the most beautiful landscaping. Originally it was a Shogun summer house, but was converted to a Buddhist temple. In 1950 it was burned to the ground by a buddhist zealot (I think he misunderstood something about buddhism, I dunno…) and was meticulously reconstructed.
The place is packed and we feel little spiritual vibe, especially with the souvenir hawkers close-by and the $10 price tag. But there
is something special about the location for sure.
Close by, a 30 minute walk, is Ry?an-ji temple which drew very little applause from the Creekmore’s. The biggest attraction at this zen temple is what is considered the worlds finest kare-sansui or “dry landscape”. You’ve seen little versions of these in houses and office desks and absent-mindedly played with the rake and sand and stones, right?
While cool because it’s so old, 1450, and slightly mysterious because it’s not known who designed it nor any meaning to which it is ascribed, it just isn’t very beautiful. I suppose one could stretch the imagination and make it into art, but it just doesn’t click for any of us. That’s probably heresy to some.
It takes quite a while to cross town to our next shrine, the Fushimi-inari shrine in Southern Kyoto. We’ve spent many hours on public transport, and our favorite game this trip is 2048, the “powers of two” very addictive phone game.
Fushimi-inari is a lively temple complex. Tourists and worshippers intermix here more than either of the last two shrines. Once the patron temple of rice production, it has become the patron temple of business and commerce. It was first built in the 700s and has become one of the most important and recognized shrines in Japan.
Fushimi-inari sits at the base of an eponymous mountain and is known for a hillside that contains thousands of Torii columns and arches in the japanese style. Torii are often used as a gate but are connected here to form tunnels decorated in bright orange paint. Each Torii has been purchased by a Japanese business. There are also dozens of fox statues ‘messengers’ in Japanese lore.
Afterward we take a bus north – distances look much closer on a map. Kyoto really spreads out. In between 2049 games, we make goofy conversation like like Emma’s “Morning chicken” or Lily’s “Splits on Trees”. Don’t ask about either one. We couldn’t explain it. Or we chat about about our favorite places and travel. Activities and events make us reflect on the past. Japan is a great trip, but it’s not yet had any of our top ten experiences. (Yes we maintain that list, and I’ll blog it someday.)
Good food continues to be scarce. A lot of our diet is ice cream (good ice cream, I should say), french fries and at the airbnb, eggs,
yogurt and bread. Impulsively we pop into a cafe because our legs need a rest and are delighted to find it has curry and rice, which all of use like. And it’s quiet, almost serene.
For the next hour the cafe is like our temple. Regular life feels far away – even our Japan-travel life feels farther than the sidewalk just 20 feet away. Emma and Lily stare into their phones, not distractedly or with innattention, but with contentment. Emma is reading “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Lily plays ‘Settlers of Catan”. I look through the photos, and just take it all in.
Outside it’s getting cold and looks like rain is coming, so we quicken our pace. Up next is Tofuku-Ji, which was one of the most important temples in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, under the Ashikaga shogunate. It was one of five temples used to administer the government of the Shogunate, as it consolidated power in the north.
Today it has less significance, although it has the oldest gate still in existence in Japan. But the grounds are breathtaking. It’s just a few feet from the busy Kyoto street, but inside is a ravine with two covered bridges and a large house. The grounds are covered in Japanese maples, bright green and newly leafed.
Inside is a beautiful courtyard thats half evergreen and pond, and half bare kare-sansui. We love it. And being cold and late in the day, there is almost no one here – quite a rarity in Cherry blossom season Kyoto. But it does make us want to move quickly.
We have to skip the last of the temples, our time has run out. They close at 4:30 usually, and although it’s close, we will get to it tomorrow morning.