History, Culture, Religion – Temples and Streets of Kyoto, Japan Part 1

“Music saves the soul.” Play softly while you read.

Kyoto, Japan is one of the most interesting cities in my bucket list waiting to be stricken off, which I finally did last November of 2015. I took the Shinkansen from Odawara (the nearest bullet train station from my hotel in Hakone) and arrived Kyoto late in the afternoon. I reached Heian Shrine after the sundown and waited for my AirBnB host to fetch me. Oh my, was I surprised, my Kyoto AirBnB host, Kimberlye Kowalczyk (with western blood-line but born in Japan), is so pretty. .  Her lovely flat – a traditional Japanese house if I may say – has the smell of wood and tatami mat that made my stay more than comfortable. Check her place out at https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/5785542.

And so I thought it was still too early to go to bed on my first night in Kyoto, I asked Kimberlye for attractions I can visit at night and luckily not all temples are closed after 6PM. In autumn season, some temples with lots of maple trees are illuminated at night hence people can still visit after the sunset. I have not studied my way around Kyoto yet so I asked Kimberlye how to reach destinations on foot on the first night. She lent me a map and told me all places I can visit during my 3 days and 3 nights stay. I got tired of walking on every night I fulfilled my wanderer’s lust for Kyoto but was more than energized and ready for the next day’s roaming. I visited temples and shrines and took lots of photos of the streets and people.

The imperial heart of Japan, with its awe-inspiring gardens and foliage, momentous shrines and temples, salivating street food, and friendly people, what’s not to love in Kyoto? In no particular order in my itinerary, here are a few of the interesting spots I visited that will give you a deeper appreciation of Kyoto’s history, culture and religion.

Nijo Castle

The residence of the first shogun of the Edo period, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must visit. Apart from the landscape of castle grounds and lovely garden, tatami mat covered floors, elegant ceilings, and beautiful sliding door paintings, the fortress also showcases dummies of how the shogun, bodyguards, and other military forces seated during meetings. The audio guide was in Japanese so I didn’t mind getting one but surely the thought-provoking and enthralling stories behind every corner of the palace is of great significance. And oh, strictly no taking of photos inside the buildings.

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Ninomaru Garden
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Honmaru – main circle of defense

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Karamon gate
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Ninomaru Palace – the residence and office of the shogun

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha

This popular Shinto Shrine, which houses a thousand of Torii gates, sits at the base of a mountain called Inari – Shinto god of rice. I saw many statues of dogs around the shrine and I’ve learnt that the foxes were believed to be the messenger of Inari, hence the statues. Torii gate is a religious Japanese structure that symbolises transition from profanity to sacredness as you pass through it. If you’re gonna follow the trail of the torii gates, you’ll reach the Inari mountain’s summit in 2 to 3 hours. I didn’t have ample time to trek so i just walked up until I felt I have seen enough. I took a different trail upon exiting the shrine, the one with “crossroads” label and little did I know that the pave will lead me to the cemetery. It was quiet but there were a few people walking with me and some were visiting their departed loved ones so my saunter wasn’t creepy at all. I saw interesting (though could be scary for some) graven images on my way down.

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Heian Shrine

One of the important cultural structures of Japan, Heian Shrine is the nearest attraction from where I stayed in Kyoto (Kymberlye’s). For some reasons, I didn’t get the chance to see what’s inside and only took pictures from the outside. In front of the shrine, after crossing the street and a few blocks of a park is a giant torii gate. Around this Heian Jinggu’s torii are the Kyoto National Library, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Kyoto Zoo, Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, all of which I never had the chance to visit (cries!!!).

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Chion-in Temple

Little did I know that this grand scale temple has a vast property after the san-mon gate which is the main entrance to the compound. I just saw this temple on my way to Maruyama park and Yasaka Shrine. I’ve learnt that the stairs of this entrance were featured in Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Located in the western outskirts of Kyoto, this most photographed site in  Japan offers an irrefutable feeling that you are totally out of this world. Standing amidst the tall stalks of bamboo gave me inexplicable goosebumps and euphoria. Some people try to visit in the early morning just before the sunrise when not much tourists crowd the walkway. With the grove’s notable fame and beauty, there was no way for me to take photos with no or little throng in the day light. Worse, selfie sticks were raised just when I clicked my camera, nice timing. . Nevertheless, this dumbfounding sight greatly satisfied my wanderlust. Finally, I’ve seen it.

By the way, it was quite a long walk from the train station to the bamboo grove, but my stroll along the streets with a few stops to eat street foods like yummy takoyaki and a few temples on the way was lovely.

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to be continued……


4 thoughts on “History, Culture, Religion – Temples and Streets of Kyoto, Japan Part 1

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