The Ancient Capital of Kyoto
Kyoto was the former capital of Japan for over 1000 years yet even until today it remains as the country’s cultural centre and very much loved by visitors both locally and from around the world. It truly is a magical place. Unfortunately for me, I only had a short day to visit, but definitely not the last one – I will be back for more.
Following the weekend at Tateyama Alpine Route, next on my agenda was the ancient capital of Kyoto! It is a super express ride from Nagoya and quite easy to get around. From the time I stepped out of the train, the atmosphere around the Kyoto Station was welcoming. With the Kyoto city tourism right within a few steps from the central exit I felt comfortable tackling the day tour already. The ladies at the counter were helpful, spoke very good english and knew what was going on as we spoke.
As it was the golden week many places were closed due to the many public holidays happening that week. So I thought I will start with some world heritage sites. First up was Sanjusangen-do Temple. This was second top on my list of places to see (first on the list was the Imperial Palace) for its collection of 1001 Sanju-Kannon statues of buddhist deity. What I failed to read even at the back of my entry ticket was there was a very strict rule on ‘no photos’ inside the hall. I was speechless! as this was the main reason I visited this place! But, I moved on and enjoyed the Kannons and planted them in my memory. There are photos on-line and books about them as well. Nevertheless, outside the temple was as beautiful as the ancient Kannons.
The original temple was built around 1164 but lost in fire then reconstructed in 1266 and has remained unchanged for 700 years. It has since had four great renovations since. It is also known for its 120 metres long temple hall made in the Wayo or Japanese style architecture. The name Sanjusangen-do derived from its famous thirty-three spaces between the columns.
There are literally over a thousand temples and shrines in Kyoto. I managed to visit a couple smaller once within the vicinity of Sanjusangen-do temple before I made it to another UNESCO world cultural heritage listed building – Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was more tourist friendly which allowed photos, except from the private garden, where you can sit down and enjoy with only your memory.
Kiyomizu Temple is set atop a hill along the Otowa Mountain. Built in 778 which, unfortunately, was also burnt down by fires then rebuilt during the Edo Period between 1631-33. The temple is beautiful with the Kiyomizu stage built high on 12 metre pillars and boasts a great view of the city. The landscaped garden all around the temple is so pleasant to walk around (even when crowded) as there are splashes of colour everywhere.
From Kiyomizu temple the walk down beautiful Higashiyama District where you find souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants or just people watching is another experience.
There are many interesting sight to see on the eastern side of Kyoto also known as Higashiyama Dirstrict, but it is a vast area to cover. I missed out on Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Instead I chose to visit Rokuon-ji Temple more famously known as Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion.) The golden pavilion is a shariden, a buddhist hall containing relics of buddha. The garden and buildings are believed to represent the pure land of buddha in this world (albeit the crowd) and it was crowded. The design is quite tourist-efficient, though, as everyone can just walk through a path and see all the important features of the temple, without overcrowding in one area.
The garden around the pavilion is a National Special Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty where one should enjoy strolling around. For such a popular tourist attraction, this might be a bit challenging to accomplish, as it seemed always crowded.
The rain stopped and the clouds were clearing, but it was also getting late and museums and temples were closing. Instead of going to Gion District, which I really wanted not only to visit but experience, I chose to make a final dash over to Heian Jingu Shrine. Considered as the replica of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu is an important cultural property of Japan. A young temple, compared to other temples in Kyoto, at only over a hundred years old – 1895, was burned down in 1976 and rebuilt using moneys collected from donations to what is now the current structure.
And that concluded my day in Kyoto, but only for now, I will definitely visit Kyoto again especially as I want to experience the culture in Gion District. I hope you enjoyed the photo tour with me. Up next is Nara also a former capital of Japan.