I began my Kyoto tour with a series of temples – no surprise there! My first visit was to Ryoanji Temple originally a country house for the Tokudaji Clan. It was bought in 1450 to be used as a Zen training temple. Ryoanji was registered as a World Heritage site in 1994.
The most prominent feature of the temple is a 25 by 10-meter rock garden built in the 15th century by a Zen monk. The garden has a clay wall, no trees or plants of any kind and 9 rocks and a bunch of gravel that has been scraped with a rake into some design that is supposed to be art. Frankly, I didn’t get it. Looked like a big ass litter box to me. Photos of the entrance, Kyoyochi Pond, stupa, temple, and Tsukubai (a stone wash-basin) are attached.
The second temple visit was the Rokuon-Ji Temple. The garden was originally owned by a powerful Shogun but upon his death, he had stipulated that the property was converted into a temple. The most prominent feature of this temple is a beautiful Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku).
The pond with the Golden Pavilion and large and small islands are the centerpiece of the garden. Additionally, there are large rocks strategically placed along the paths around the pond donated by various lords throughout Japan during the 13th century.
The pavilion has three levels and the top two are lacquer wood covered in gold foil. A golden Phoenix stands atop the golden shingled roof. Attached are photos of the pond, pavilion from several directions, as well as several other buildings on the grounds.
Next I visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The palace was rebuilt in 1855 to match its glory days during Japan’s ancient imperial dynasties.
The Imperial complex includes the Shisinden, the Seiryoden, the Kogosyo, the Ogakumonjyo, and the Otsunegoten all reflecting the architectural styles of their eras.
The palace grounds are enclosed by huge imposing walls and accessed by several gatehouses. Visitors access is limited to the gardens and the palace buildings but unfortunately, none of the buildings can be entered. Still the palace is worth a visit if you admire architecture and history. Photos of the exterior of buildings and the gardens are attached above.
The photos include the Shinmikurumayose (carriage porch) which was reserved for high ranking officials attending rituals or audiences with the emperor.
The Shodaibunoma (Waiting Rooms) – three rooms divide into sections where visitors waited according to their rank. The highest ranking officials used the “Room of the Tigers”, the next level visitor used the “Room of the Cranes” and the lowliest visitors used the “Room of the Cherry Blossoms”. Each room had beautifully painted representations of the room on the sliding doors leading to the room.
The Shishinden Hall is the most important building in the palace and is used for State Ceremonies. This hall was used to enthrone Emperors Taisho and Showa. And of course, the interior is off limits to tourists. So, no photos of the emperor’s or empress’ thrones.
I’ve posted photos of each of these buildings as well as the Kogosho, Seiryoden, and the gardens.
Day 2 in Kyoto and I was up early to visit the Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water) Temple – a World Heritage Site. The temple was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. The Temple, built without the use of a single nail, is renowned for the terrace or stage that extends out from the main hall 50 feet above the forested hillside below. The view from the terrace is beautiful with a forest of mature maple and cherry trees extending out for acres below and modern Kyoto in the distant skyline. The vista in June was beautiful but I can only imagine the view in spring with the cherry trees in blossom or the view in the fall with the maple leaves turning golden and crimson.
The Otowa Falls are located at the base of the main hall and visitors can drink from the falls using cups with long poles. Drinking from the stream is believed to provide long life, success in school and a healthy love life. You can choose one benefit – choosing all three is just damn greedy. On the far end of the temple grounds stands the three story Koyasu Pagoda. Other structures on the temple grounds include the Okunion Hall, halls dedicated to Shaka Buddha and Amida Buddha.
Just outside the temple grounds are a virtual steep maze of small streets and lanes crammed full of small shops, souvenir stands, cafes and tea houses. The walk into the temple and then out again walking to the Kodai-ji Temple is a visual treat in itself. I have included plenty of photos of both the temple and the street scenes with this blog.
Next after a 15minute walk and 30 minute Starbucks break I began my tour of Kodai-ji Temple. Kodai-ji was built in 1606 and consist of several lavishly designed and furnished buildings surrounded by more Zen Rock Gardens. Buildings in the complex includes: the Main Hall, Kaizando memorial hall, the mausoleum for Hideyoshi and his wife Nene, a tea house, and Entokuin Temple. In addition to the Rock Gardens there is a much more interesting tsukiyama style garden with a small pond, man-made hills, and beautiful pine and maple trees. Finally, walking back down the hill from the tea houses is an incredible bamboo grove. Photos of all are attached.
Next up – the Chionin Temple built in 1294 and on a grand scale. The temple sports the largest bell in Japan at over 20 feet tall and weighing 74 tons. Seventeen monks are required to ring this huge bell. In fact, every building on the temple grounds is wooden and is built bigger than life. Photos are attached below.
The Nanzen-ji Temple was my next destination – one of the most significant Zen temples in Japan. The temple was founded in the 13th century when the Emperor built his retirement villa on the site and then later converted it over to a Zen temple. The first thing you see as you approach the temple are the huge Sanmon Gates (over 80 feet tall). The extensive grounds contain elaborate Rock Gardens, a pond garden and an oddly placed aqueduct built much later in the late 18th century to carry water to the city.
The best part of this temple visit is that you could enter the various halls and buildings. Tons of photos are attached.
After spending way too much time visiting the Nanzen-ji Temple, I walked the Philosopher’s Walk to the Ginkaku-ji Temple. The 2 kilometer stone path that follows a cherry tree (over 100) lined canal from the Nanzenji to the Ginkakuji Silver Pavilion. The path also runs along a small street lined with small cafes and tea houses. I had a great club sandwich and glass of ice tea in one of the cafes.
The Ginkaku-ji Temple was originally a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482. Today’s temple complex consists of the Silver Pavilion, half dozen additional temple buildings, a moss garden and sand garden. The Silver Pavilion is a two-story structure with each story constructed in a different architecture style. I’m not sure why it is called the Silver Pavilion since there isn’t a hint of silver on the building.
Following the path past the Pavilion leads you to the dry sand garden called the “Sea of Silver Sand”. At the end of the sand garden, there is a large sand cone called the “Moon Viewing Platform”. Beside the garden stands the Hondo (main hall). Next to the Hondo is the Togudo. Once past the Togudo the path takes you by the moss garden featuring ponds with islands and bridges, small streams and tons of different plants. The photos will help you follow the narrative.
Day 3 began with a false start. I had scheduled a visit to the Katsura Imperial Villa but after my taxi driver spending a half hour trying to find the place and realizing I would never find a taxi back – I decided to skip this site and move on to the more centrally located Tenryu-ji Temple.
The Tenryu-ji Temple was originally built in 1339 but has burned to the ground eight times over the centuries. The current structures only date back to 1868. However, the gardens have survived in their original form. There are three significant buildings – the main hall (Hojo), the drawing hall (Shoin) and the temple kitchen (Kuri) all built between 1868 and 1912. Photos attached.
My final site to visit required a short walk thru town, over the river and up to the top of a small mountain to visit the Arashiyama Monkey Park. While on top the mountain with the monkeys the sky opened- up and this was the one day that I brought neither a rain jacket or umbrella. I had a very cold and wet walk down the mountain and wait to catch a taxi. I’m not sure the monkeys were worth the climb up the mountain or the wet return trip. Photos attached anyway.
One final comment about Japan – their food sucks!!! This is the only country I have been forced to search out American Fast Food for survival. I have enjoyed the cuisine in the 14 other countries I have visited so far – but not Japan! The food they eat looks and smells absolutely disgusting. And it explains a lot about why they had such an imperialistic past. They were starving and in search of a decent meal.
Normally I can find something on an Asian breakfast buffet that I will eat – boiled eggs, watermelon, bananas, tomatoes, toast. I just need to look past all the rice, noodles, freaky fruit and half cooked seafood. This was not the case in Kyoto. My hotel buffet offered no breads of any kind, no tomatoes, and the only fruits on display were tropical crap fruits. I finally found a bowl of boiled eggs and thought at least I would have something to begin my day.
I don’t know how most people crack and peel their boiled eggs but I give the egg a firm squeeze as I hit it on the edge of the table. This works very well with an actual boiled egg. Not so much with a fricking raw egg! My meager breakfast exploded and raw egg flew out in a 360 degree spray all over me, the table and a few neighboring garbage eaters. Not a pretty site!
Who the hell eats raw eggs for breakfast you might ask? The same World War II losers that eat everything else not fit for human consumption – that’s who! So, if you are going to Japan – pack your own damn food or starve.
And that ends my Japan excursion. On to Shanghai and some good Chinese food!