Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kyoto: Day 3 (Southern Higashiyama)

On our third day in Kyoto, we decided to walk the southern Higashiyama area. Japan's National Tourism Organization has some great PDF's with walking tours of Kyoto, and we found the maps to be more accurate than the city map given to us by our rental agency. 

We started our day by going to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the "must-see" temples on any Kyoto list. It was founded in the year 780 and its name literally means, "Pure Water Temple," thanks to the sacred waterfall on the adjoining hillside. It is well-known for its wooden stage that juts out from the main hall, high above the ground, and was built without the use of nails. 

At almost every temple, there were school groups taking class pictures (their school year begins in April).
Simply astonishing to think it was built without nails.
The sacred Ottowa waterfall is located down the hill from the stage and main hall. It's water is divided into three streams, with each stream having a different benefit - long life, school success, and luck in love. All the students were lining up to try and reach the streams with a cup attached to a long pole. You have to drink from the stream to reap the benefits. It seemed like most of the girls were reaching for the "love" stream....

We followed the suggested walking tour over to the Ninenzaka and Sannanzaka shopping slopes. These streets are an iconic picture of old Japan. We were there early, however, and most of the shops were still closed. (In Japan, many stores don't open until 10:00 or 11:00am!)

Just after exiting the slopes, we came upon the large Ryozen Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). It hadn't been on our list, but was so interesting that we decided to go inside for a look. Turns out, it was a WWII memorial - with areas for both Japanese and Allied soldiers - and paying for admission also bought you a stack if incense to play in front of the Kannon. (My 6-year-old particularly enjoyed carrying the lighted incense and sticking it in the sand.) Also within the grounds is an altar containing soil from every Allied cemetery located in the Pacific theater of WWII.

The pool out front had fish that were OBVIOUSLY used to being fed. The girls loved them!

We stopped by Kodai-ji Temple, which was right next door to the Kannon, but kept moving because we were starting to burn through some of the coins we had for temple admissions.

Hugging some statues in front of Kodai-ji.
Kodai-ji Temple with beautiful sakura out front.
Up next was one of my favorite temples in Kyoto: Chion-in! Chion-in temple is part of Pure Land Buddhism and dates back to the 16th century. It's wooden gate was built in 1600 and is the largest wooden gate in Japan. The gate was simply magnificent, and the colorful banners draped across the front columns and upper balcony only added to its beauty. And I won't lie... part of the reason I was looking forward to coming here was because it's tall staircase was featured in one of my favorite movies, "The Last Samurai." 

"This column is HUGE, Mom!"
"The Last Samurai" staircase!
Our friends down front look tiny under the huge Sanmon Gate.
After we stopped to get some lunch, we decided to head to one more temple, Nanzen-ji.  Nanzen-ji is important because it is head Zen temple of the Rinzai sect in Kyoto. It is a large complex of buildings, and though it was founded in the mid-13th century, most buildings had to be rebuilt in the 16th century after a series of civil wars destroyed them. The large gate at the front of the grounds isn't quite as big as the Chion-in gate, but what makes this gate worth visiting is the fact that you can go up to the second-story balcony to take in views of the city! I think it cost us about 500 yen each (a little less for children) to go up on the balcony, and it was worth it. I loved it! Nanzen-ji is also home to a couple of Zen rock gardens that are worth a visit.

Walking up to the Nanzen-ji gate.
I loved walking barefoot on these wood floors, built in 1628.

To get an idea of how high we are, that's my husband standing on the sidewalk in the white shirt.
One of the abbot residences on the grounds. It had a lovely garden in the back.

I told The Hubs that we should build one of these onto our house one day, and 6yo piped up from behind me saying, "Are you crazy? This would probably cost $1,000!" Haha.
I love so many things about Japanese architecture. 
The only way we made it through this last temple visit was to promise our kids that we would take them to the Kyoto Municipal Zoo. The zoo visit was... depressing, aggravating, and heart-breaking, to say the least. Don't worry, I have a wonderful review of the zoo coming up next....

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