Temple and shrine hopping was the major draw of visiting Kyoto. I spent days touring sites while contemplating my place in the universe, marveling at nature, and giving myself the gift of inner peace. Here’s the full list of all the sites I visited:
Perhaps the most famous temple in Kyoto, Kinkakuji’s golden roof drew its expected crowds on the Sunday afternoon I visited. This, despite the overcast sky essentially wrecking the view. 😦
It’s just sad and unimpressive. My friend recommends seeing it in the morning, as the rising sun shows the golden roof to its best advantage. I also have a postcard of the temple covered in snow in the thick of winter and it looks really beautiful there.
Other people say that the temple’s reflection in the lake is even better than the real thing.
After Kinkakuji, I walked through the rain to neighboring Ryoanji. I didn’t really understand the bus system yet and that there was a bus that could take me straight to the temple’s entrance.
A pity, but it made my exhausted self extra happy to see Ryoanji’s famous rock garden. I happily abandoned my shoes, walked through the wooden main building, and took a seat on the rock garden’s viewing platform. Rain drops plip-plopped off the roof and kept away from me; they strangely seemed to add to my view of the rock garden.
Otherwise, I don’t get it. If there are any secrets of enlightenment hidden in those rocks, they whooshed straight over my head. But did it, at that moment, feed the growing feeling of peace in my heart? Sure, and I suppose that was the thing.
Besides the rock garden, Ryoanji had grounds worth slowly absorbing. They had a lake full of ducks and swans and in the middle of the lake was a little island with a Shinto shrine.
The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Household has four properties in Kyoto that you can book a tour to view. Of the four, the Imperial Palace is the easiest to get into and the only one I managed to join. Like the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the other three open up their bookings three months in advance and I was far too late for any of that.
Our tour guide was a beautifully-accoutered lady who spoke English with a very fine accent– she was so sophisticated, she seemed to merit a description that fancy. She was very enthusiastic about every minute detail of the buildings she was describing: from the sixteen petals on the Imperial chrysanthemum to the number of cypress-wood layers that made up the roofs. I learned a lot from her tour that added to my readings of the other sites.
(This is one of the halls at the Imperial Palace. It has two trees in front of it, both ugly due to winter! The one in the hut is a tangerine tree, protected from the weather. The other is a cherry blossom tree.)
The Imperial Palace is in the middle of Kyoto Imperial Park which is beautiful and worth visiting for its own merits.
My friend and I stumbled onto Nishi Honganji after I got confused on the bus. It was one of the shrines with a special icon on my map so I thought there was something to it.
If there was, I totally have no idea what it was. My friend and I had a pleasant time walking through the grounds, which had a good number of Japanese people hanging around. It seemed that a group of them were having a graduation ceremony or some such; I’m not sure.
Nijo-jo is easily one of my favorites sites in Kyoto. It hails from the period of Japanese history which featured shoguns and ninjas, and that is all the introduction you need to nightingale floors. To warn of sneak attacks and other intruders, the floors of the building squeak like nightingales when stepped on. I may have been that tourist who bounced in one spot just to hear them. Also that tourist who skipped down the hallways, again, to hear the sweet squeak of the floorboards.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the hallways inside, on account of the priceless art drawn on the screen doors, but we could, of course, take as many as we wanted of the gardens. Like all the other places I had seen in Kyoto, Nijo-jo had expansive, brilliant gardens. My friend imagined that the shoguns would simply walk out there when a minister they didn’t want to meet came to visit.
My understanding of the Shimogamo Shrine is that it is special to women. Hina-matsuri, a special celebration for girls, was held on the Wednesday I was in Kyoto and the shrine had a special event for it. They floated these wreaths down the river to pray for the girls’ health and happiness– the day after, you could still see them there.
Shimogamo and Kamigamo are the oldest shrines in Kyoto, even pre-dating the city itself. I actually didn’t know that, going there. I knew they were marked on my map and that increased the likelihood that both were UNESCO World Heritage Sites. (They are.)
I just enjoyed strolling through the area, taking in the various structures. In the picture above, you can sort of see the two sand pyramids Kamigamo is famous for.
[This post was originally published on March 13, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]