More temples than you can shake a stick at
06.06.2009 - 08.06.2009 25 °C
The second major city on my tour of Japan was the historic city of Kyoto. All the guide books rave about this place as being the spiritual home of Japan and how beautiful the place. On first impressions the place is like any other large Japanese city. It's big, it's awash with unspectacular functional buildings and it seems to be an ever expanding urban sprawl. Indeed as you travel on the bullet trains between cities you realise there is very little actual countryside between the cities. It's as even all the cities are slowly merging into a single metropolis!
Kyoto's charms though are hidden behind the concrete jungle and neon signs. The city is awash with temples, shrines and idyllic gardens. The problem was not find a beautiful and serene spot to marvel at some incredible temple or shrine rather the problem was not becoming blasé and taking the spectacular sights for granted. In the last few weeks during my travels through China, Tibet, Korea and Japan I've seen Buddhist (every possible sect and derivative form), Taoist, Daoist, Confucian, Shinto, Bon, Zen and even Muslim temples and shrines. At this stage I'm nearly yearning for the Gothic or Romanesque stylings of Christian European cathedral.
Having said all that some of the places I saw in Kyoto were simply breathtaking. I'm not going to bore anyone with a description of any of these temples or shrines as I simply wouldn't be capable of describing the tranquillity and gentle beauty of these places. The places that stood out for me were the Dajokii temple with the golden roof and spectacular gardens and grounds. The famous (in Zen Buddhism circles I assume) garden of Ryokan. It was essentially 15 rocks placed randomly (or perhaps not so randomly, the designer never explained his rational) on manicured gravel. Despite the austerity and plainness of the garden and its relatively small size I still found myself sitting and staring into the garden for quite a long time. I became to understand somewhat the appeal of such simple areas and how they can evoke calmness.
On a more modern note the city is also famous for its Gion area which is essentially it's nightlife district. While not a frenetic, wild or as famous as the nightlife in Osaka it is still the standard Japanese collection of bars and neon signs. What set the place apart is the high density of Geisha bars. Apparently in the late evening you can often see the notoriously shy and private Geishas moving in this area as they scurry from one appointment to the next. Hence the reason that a few of us were prowling the area with our cameras at the ready trying to capture a surreptitious photo of a Geisha. I felt like I was on safari again as we kept our eyes peeled for a Geisha as we moved through the area. Fortunate was with me and I managed to get a few sneaky snaps of a Geisha. A truly unique Japanese sight!