Beautiful Kyoto

During my time away from Sendai after the earthquake I’ve stayed in Kyoto (京都), the old capital of Japan, for more than a week. I’ve already mentioned Shousei-en, and here are some more noteworthy places I have visited.

On the arrival day I went with a few friends to see the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which is open to the general public only for a few days per year. I liked the gardens best, too bad going to the pond’s shore or walking along the small paths and over the bridges was not allowed!

A ponds shore in the foreground, two bridges and many different trees in the background, pond in between.

Kyoto has a huge number of temples and shrines, and interestingly two of the most famous Zen temples were built as villas by different Shoguns and converted to temples after their death as demanded in each one’s will: Kinkakuji (金閣寺, “golden tower temple”), and Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, “silver tower temple”).

Golden building at a garden pond, rainy weather.

Kinkakuji (above) is the older of the two, and obviously got its name from the main building’s gold-plated upper floors. It was raining when I visited Kinkakuji, but I think the golden building and gray surroundings made a nice contrast to the golden temple. Ginkakuji (below), however, does not have silver plating or anything like that and rather got the name because it can be seen as the slightly newer counterpart to Kinkakuji.

At each of these temples a teacher asked me if he could take a photo with me and his students. I guess as a foreigner I kind of became a part of the attraction. I agreed – and handed the teacher my own camera to get a picture for myself as well. 😉 One of the teachers tried to have a conversation in English, but I really hope he isn’t supposed to teach it. Sadly the students were too shy to talk, even in Japanese. Well, one of them asked what my favorite Japanese food was, but I’m not sure if he understood my reply.

Ginkakuji main building, surrounded by a Japanese garden with a pond in the foreground.

After visiting Ginkakuji, I walked along the Philosopher’s Path, which is named like that because Nishida Kitaro, a famous philosophy professor, is said to have used this path daily on his way to the university. The path runs along a canal lined by cherry blossom trees. A beautiful sight!

A path and channel lined by blossoming cherry trees

While I was taking a rest at the aqueduct near Nanzenji, a girl asked me where I was from, recommended seeing Shimogamo Shrine (which I did the next day), and gave me a flower before leaving with her boyfriend.

A big red flower

On my second day in Kyoto, I met a man who was feeding cats in a park with onigiri (rice balls) and gave me a can of beer, and later during lunch talked with an old lady who ate a little bit of tofu and drank a bottle of beer. Another day, after returning from Amanohasidate, I met a couple from Tokyo during dinner at a small Okonomiyaki shop near the station. We talked for a while, and they invited me to stay at their home when I come to Tokyo, even emphasized that a longer stay would be okay, too. Very nice! Kyoto is full of interesting people. 🙂

Temple buildings on a wooded hillside

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, “pure water temple”) is a huge temple in eastern Kyoto. It is famous for its huge wooden stage (right in the picture above) and the three waterfalls below. According to some, drinking water from each of the three falls will grant a specific wish (e.g. wisdom, health or longevity, but variations like “a fortunate love life” exist), while a sign at the falls says that the temple “does not comment on such beliefs” and drinking from each of the falls would help wish fulfillment equally, but you should not drink from all three.

Three canalized waterfalls pouring into a basin, people waiting in line to drink from them.

If you want to see many, many torii, visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社), south-west of Kyoto station. Hundreds of torii gates, most wooden and painted red, some made from stone, are lined up on mountain paths behind the shrine, donated by companies or people hoping to receive blessings in exchange. Climbing up all the way to the top of Mt. Inari takes a while, but you will be rewarded with a great view over Kyoto.

Red torii, forming a tunnel over a way.

The atmosphere at the Umekoji Steam Locomotive museum is naturally quite different from all the temples and shrines. The museum part in the traditional sense is rather small, but there’s a lot to see in the engine shed and outdoor area if you’re interested in engines. The most interesting thing is obviously the running steam train, but the big, loud and steaming engine scared some children.

Steam engine on turntable

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