I wanted to see Kyoto in the fall.
I wanted to see the Kyoto I’d heard could make you cry because of the intensity of the momiji -“red leaves”. The tradition of visiting a place in order to see leaves that have turned for autumn is called momijigari –a combination of the words momiji and kari “hunting”.
Unfortunately, as you can already tell, I didn’t see very much red. Insert sad face here. Angela, my California Jet ALT friend (I could really just say friend I suppose since most of you know who I live with by now) accompanied me on my venture into the old world Japan. We both figured that the lack of momiji had been brought upon by the huge amounts of rain we’d been receiving lately. So most places looked more like this:
I was referred by several friends to visit Kyoto. It is one of the most historically rich places in all of Japan. If you have no time to visit any other place, they said, go to Kyoto.
Children here always end up asking me a certain set of questions: Do you like hamburgers? Do you like Japanese food? What place in Japan do you like? There are a few more, but I hear those at least four or five times per school and that’s the low end number. I’ve always been a smart donkey about it and said my bed. I mean that though, I have the best bed. I’m writing this post from it currently. But after going to Kyoto, I now have a better answer.
Gio-ji Temple will forever be my favorite place perhaps in the whole of the world, it is just that beautiful. Within this temple there are seven different kinds of moss all of which are so vibrant and comfy looking. The woman who lived here was named Gio. She was said to be very beautiful but could not keep the attention of the then emperor Kiyomori. She moved to this compound with her mother and sister renouncing the world to live as a nun of sorts. She died and was buried here. When I read the sign above I will admit to thinking she was foolish, but as you will see, if I could name a place to live and die, I’d name Gio-ji too.
I think Angela and I can agree that we somehow picked perfectly the places we would visit. Sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. There literally was not a thing I would have changed about that trip. Fushimi Inari Shrine was actually the first place we visited after getting of the shinkansen “bullet train” and checking into our ryokan a “traditional Japanese inn.”
Another spot we visited was Adashino Nenbustu-ji, a Buddhist temple housing 8,000 stone Buddhas commemorating the passing of paupers whose families could not afford a proper burial. During a festival in August 1,000 candles are lit to honor these anonymous souls. The main temple hall was built in 1712 and houses an idol referred to as the Amida Buddha.
The first time I realized I wanted to go to Kyoto was when a friend of mine, Linda, tagged me in a photo of the Kitasaga Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. I unfortunately couldn’t get the coolest pictures, but I did enjoy walking the path through that huge grove. It was eerily quiet even though there were so many people walking through it. It was as if the sheer height of the bamboo whisked all the sound up, up, up into the towering sky above you.
As I mentioned in a note beneath a photo before, Angela and I had been attempting to find this iconic bridge when we stumbled up on Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple. Out of the 1,200 other temples and shrines in Kyoto, this might be my favorite accidental find (if not favorite just under Gio-ji). Angela and I were super exhausted by this point since it was the end of the day and we had literally and hour before most places closed (all of Kyoto seems to close down at 5-5:30). Not to mention, this temple we found was at the top of a pretty steep climb ending in a tunnel to seemingly nowhere. On top of that, it was going to rain any minute. Upon discovering we had somehow become lost, we checked the bus stop across the street for when the next bus, going the direction and stopping where we wanted, would come. Sure enough we had almost a full hour to sit and wait. This temple was DIRECTLY across and we almost didn’t go in because it cost money and we were tired and nearing broke, but I am so glad we did. I peered in and somehow convinced Angela to join me in making another climb up into this guide book avoided temple. Inside there are over 1,200 rakan which are stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha. Now, I know that sounds nearly the same as the temple you just read about but less impressive, but it is nothing like it. Where Adashino Nenbutsu-ji is all gravitas, Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is hilarity and fun. Most of the statues were carved by amateurs whose names are displayed upon the back of the figures. Angela and I had so much fun rummaging through them finding a different face, stance, or theme every time.
We also went to Ginkaku-ji Temple jokingly (and more commonly) referred to as the Temple of the Silver Pavilion called thus because of it’s sibling Kinkaku-ji Temple where the Golden Pavilion was rebuilt in 1955. Since we wanted to see old world Japan, Angela and I decided to go to Ginkaku-ji instead of Japan’s most widely photographed tourist attraction at Kinkaku-ji. Founded in 1490 its complex is actually an example of a Zen Buddhist temple including beautiful landscape as well as a sand garden with a mound of formed sand symbolizing Mount Fuji.
The last place I want to talk about visiting is Nijo Castle. It was built in 1603 as the residence of the first Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu and sports the coolest floors anyone ever created ever in the history floor creation, no joke. The floors in the castle are called nightingale floors and were then a form of high-security in protecting against ninja attacks! Now how cool is that?! I had always wanted to hear the sound that they made but had sort of despaired of every getting the chance. You see, as you walk along the halls of this castle, you hear the sound of birds chirping. I didn’t even notice I was hearing it because I literally thought it was just the birds outside. I was so overjoyed at discovering it was myself and the hundred or so other people moving through the castle museum who were making the noise that I nearly cried. I had really thought the sound would be annoying an how could anyone live like that but in all honesty, it is a gentle sort of distant sound made when nails gently rub against a jacket or clamp under the floor. I only have pictures of the outside because inside photography was not allowed. They had manikins set up to show what happened in certain rooms, who sat where, and sometimes even why they sat in that specific spot. For instance, during a meeting with many officials, the shogun sat at a predetermined distance from both his officials and a door to his right. This distance was decided upon because it allowed guards stationed behind the door enough time to protect the shogun in case one of the officials tried to kill him. Aside from that, as you move through the castle you are able to see the elaborate gold leafing and wall paintings many of which have been restored. All in all, its a definite must see.
So, here are a few pictures I forgot to add during the post. I’ll end with them even though they are out of sequence. I know this post was long, but I was in Kyoto for three days!! I hope you enjoyed looking at all my repetitive pictures. Insert winky face here.