And Kyoto, the old Imperial Capital of Japan, was up next. Resources (from books to reviews from friends) reveal that Kyoto is one of the most, if not the most beautiful city in Japan because of its rich cultural heritage. They were not in any way speaking in jest. Kyoto, or what little I saw of it, is indeed an exceedingly beautiful city!
Starting the day off, the services of a maiko (geisha trainee) was sought in that she accompanied us to Heian Shrine (平安神宮), an Imperial Shinto Shrine for some unique photo-taking moments. I will readily admit that, like most other people, I know very little about the sui generis geisha culture beyond their glaringly obvious white makeup. Apparently this ‘escort service’ is a booming business for the geisha in Kyoto. Ensuring that the culture doesn’t die out completely, I guess. And it’s working. It’s just that I don’t envy them one single bit. There is no other way to put it across gently but they reminded me of… animals on exhibit in the zoo. Everyone jostled to take pictures with her, otherwise looked on curiously by the sidelines. I felt bad for her.
Looked beyond that and I started enjoying the beauty of Heian Shrine. Architecturally, it was an intricately alluring shrine with an expansive courtyard space. Couple that scene with a beautiful day and my favourite clear blue sky resulted in some of the most picturesque photographs taken on the trip.
Heian Shrine deifies both the founder and the last Emperor of the Heian Capital. Though not nearly half as famous or popular as Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山 清水寺), this shrine too serves as a major tourist attraction for domestic and foreign visitors alike. And as typical of Shinto shrines, devotees could write their wishes or prayers on Ema (絵馬) and hang them at designated racks. They could also receive random fortune lots (御御籤) by contributing a small token amount. All is well if the prediction turned out good. What if it were bad? According to Wikipedia, ‘when the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.‘ The poor tree…
A visit to Koyto is not complete unless one makes a trip to Kiyomizu-dera, arguably one of the most famous symbols of Kyoto. This historic Buddhist temple located halfway up the Otawa Mountain was established way back in 778. The temple was burned down several times in history, according to the temple’s website. Exactly which part and which building, I’m not sure. Even if we take into consideration the newest part of the temple (which was rebuilt latest in 1633), that still makes it over 300 years old. Based on the what I saw of the temple, I say they are doing an extremely good job out of maintaining this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
There are two famous places within the temple – the Main Hall and the Kiyomizu Stage. Personally I try not to take pictures of the interior at places of worship because I find it disrespectful on so many counts. I do break this rule once in a while when I find the interior so overwhelmingly beautiful I have to take a picture to remember it by but in general, yup… that’s a principle I live by. And so, I do not have pictures of the famous Eleven Headed and Thousand Armed Kannon Bodhisattva. Furthermore the picture I have of the Kiyomizu Stage is of an uncommon angle, I would say. Most photographers shoot it from above (you will have more than enough examples to peruse if you google) but for some strange reason, I shot it from below. Blame it on my fascination with buildings and structures – I have to say that the Kiyomizu Stage, which is the verandah of the main hall built over a precipice, was intriguing. I stared at it for a very long time trying to figure out the construction method. No nails at all, that bit I deduced. Fascinating. The mum had to drag me away after some time because we had other places to go to. 😆
And then it was time for shopping! Not quite the usual type of shopping that other women love. The women in my family like tidbits and knickknacks, and Higashiyama District has everything to offer in this respect. The district is in total just about two kilometres long but we sure took a long time to clear this short distance.
We shopped for Omiyage (お土産), stopped every few steps to look at the food offerings, and ended up eating a lot including waffles and ice-cream. A perfect wrap to our overview of beautiful Kyoto.
(In actuality, this post was written in Apr 2013, 6 years after the trip. In this duration, I have revisited Japan several times, on an average of once every year, but I never did once revisit Kyoto. It is in the pipeline but just not yet. Reliving the memories from this particular trip makes me want move the plan ahead to revist and explore Kyoto in further detail. This is a city that has so much to offer.)