Plan for the day
- Kinkakuji temple
After sunset and if we were still not tired out we planned to visit Eikando temple also known as Zenrinji temple before returning to Reiah Hotel for a second night.
Kinkakui-ji Temple opening hours was from 9am to 5pm which left us ample time for breakfast that was provided by the hotel as part of our room package. We left Hotel Reiah at about 8.30am and reached the temple car park in just 20 minutes as it was just a short 22km drive. Surprising there were already many tourist buses and cars parked at the car park. If we were to arrive later there would be no more empty car lot.
We bought our tickets at ¥400 per person at the ticketing booth and entered into the temple ground. There was a huge crowd and my first thought was that these people would get in the way and obstruct the view. Surprising it did not. We were channeled into a beautiful garden with a huge pond and a golden pavilion. Visitors had to stand behind the rope/bamboo barricade erected at the edge of the pond, so when we got to the front of the barricade we got a fantastic view of the pavilion.
The view of Kinkaku-ji was stunning beyond words. There was no breeze in the air, so the water surface of the pond was absolutely still that it perfectly mirrored the golden pavilion and the blue sky beautifully.
This garden was not a free-for-all place to explore. We had to tread only on the designated path. The garden, the pond and the pavilion were beautifully arranged such that as we walked on the path we got to view the pond and the pavilion at different angles and elevations and every view was beautiful.
Kinkaku-ji actually meant “The Temple of Golden Pavilion”, it was a Zen temple and the top two floors were completely covered in gold leaf. This pavilion was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and according to his will it became a Zen temple of Rinzai sect after his death in 1408.
This temple had been burned down numerous times and the more recently in 1950 it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. It was rebuilt in 1955. The pavilion could only be seen from far as it was not open to visitor.Kinkaku-ji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. It was one of the historical buildings most representative of Japan. The temple two upper floors were covered in gold to show Yoshimitsu’s great authority. The lowest floor was designed to be used for Noh plays or Japanese classical dance drama, it was not covered in gold as it did not suit its architecture design and the slick golden surface was not suitable as a stage for dance drama.
The garden path took us to the Sekkatei Teahouse which was added to Kinakaku-ji ground during Edo Period. It was built in honor of a visit by Emperor Go-Mizuno in the 17th century.
The path led us out of the garden and we moved on to a rest area which was a tea garden for visitors. Unlike Emperor Go-Mizuno, visitors at this tea garden would not be able to drink tea as they enjoyed the view of Kinkaku-ji and the pond. Customers could instead enjoy tea under the shade of the beautiful “red” maple trees.
Though I liked tea, how I wished the tea house served cafe latte. I would love to spend my time sitting cross-legged like the locals, leaning back on the “red” clothed bench, shaded by red umbrella and staring up at the red maple leaves above my head as I sipped a good cup of hot, aromatic cafe latte. We left the tea garden regretfully and moved on to the souvenir shops.
I decided to buy a souvenir, an item that would remind us of our visit to Kinkaku-ji. As usual there were many varieties of souvenirs, there were fridge magnets, paintings, wooden models and more depicting Kinkaku-ji temple. I finally found something I liked very much. Like all other souvenirs, it did not come cheap. Whenever I bought a souvenir for myself it must be one that I knew I would not chuck aside after I reached home.
Near the souvenir shops was a small temple called Fudo Hall. It housed a statue of Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Wisdom Kings and protector of Buddhism.
Like other temple, it had a big metal cauldron just outside the hall and it was full of burning incense. The incense was burnt in reverence to Buddha and as a form of purification of the human. I saw an old man swinging a rope that struck the metal gong hanging on the eaves of the temple and wondered if it had the same significant as ringing the bell at Fushimi Inari Shrine.
By this stage we were almost at the end of our Kinkaku-ji visit. We walked down a long stretch of downslope tiled path and exited Kinkaku-ji ground through the Somon Gate.
A somon gate in Japan is a gate to the entrance of a temple which in a way is similar to a torii gate before a shrine. Shrines are built to serve the Shinto religious tradition whereas temples are built to serve the Buddhist religious tradition.
Most people in Japan practice both faiths and there are no restrictions against doing so. Shinto tends to be viewed as the religion of earthly matters and shrines are often used to host weddings and where one would go to pray for success in life or business. On the other hand, Buddhism is considered the religion of spiritual matters and temples usually host funerals and are where you go to pray for your ancestors.
Besides the entrance which is a torii gate for a shrine and somon gate for a temple, the name can also be used to tell if the place is a shrine or a temple. Shrine name usually ends with a “jingu” where temple name ends with a “ji”.
Arashiyama was a district on the western outskirt of Kyoto. It took us about 25 minutes to drive from Kinkaku-ji to the heart of Arashiyama.
As usual finding a parking space was an issue. There were just too little car park lots and too many cars. After driving around from the main street to the side streets looking for parking space we were back to a car park on the main street where we found an empty parking lot.
One side of the main street was filled with shops and restaurants, absolutely touristy. The other side of the main street ran along Katsura river and on the opposite bank of the river was Mount Arashiyama in its autumn glory.
In the district of Arashiyama besides natural scenery it also had many beautiful temples and shrines. We were not here for these temples or shrines but were here to visit its star attraction the “Arashiyama Bamboo Grove”.
It was a good thing that from the car park to the Bamboo Grove was just only 2 km, an easy walk for us. So we walked along the main street toward the bamboo grove. It was about 12 o’clock in the afternoon and the place was pack with people. The side walks on both sides of the main street were pack with people. There were also tons of people crossing the Togetsu-Kyo bridge to get to the other side of Katsura river.
After the bridge the crowd thinned out. One possible reason was that the row of shops and restaurants on the right side of the road ended. It was definitely more pleasant to walk without having to constantly dart out of the way of people and their cameras.
I met a local in full Japanese getup. I was not sure if she was a geisha but she looked more authentic than some other women in Japanese dressing. She could not speak English so I had to gesture to her that I would like to take a photo with her.
In the past two days in Kyoto we saw several tourists dressed in Kimonos at various tourist attractions. I could tell that they were not local because they spoke mandarin and were Taiwanese. Another tell-tale point was these Kimono-dressing-tourists did not have painted faces.
As we walked on, still along the road by the river the scenery became more beautiful. The river narrowed, the water level was higher, the water seemed bluer and the “koyo” colored leaves were more abundant.
The bamboo grove was not as easy to find as I thought. Based on my google map the bamboo grove was on that patch of green on the map, but that patch of green was actually quite large and the bamboo grove was at one corner of it. After searching around we decided to stop a young man (local) to ask for direction. Whenever I needed help I would only stop a young man or woman because the chance of them able to speak in English was higher.The young man was very kind, he led us to the bamboo grove that was at the north side of the green patch. It was about 3 pm when we reached the bamboo forest and the place was filled with many people.
Another name for this Bamboo Grove was Bamboo forest of Sugano and it was opened 24 hours a day and there was no entrance charges. The bamboo forest paths was over 500 meters long, the sun rays that managed to slip passed the bamboo leaves near the top of the bamboo trees sparkled up the forest. It was lovely to see thousands and thousands of bamboo trunks growing straightly upward. As the wind blew they swayed in unison and the sound of their rustling leaves seemed like sea waves.
It was a pity we could not be here in the early morning as the cool misty air and a smaller crowd would surely made this place ethereal.
After we completed the path through the bamboo forest we left in search of our car. We walked past a few temples and shrines but did not went in to explore. Whenever we encountered beautiful koyo color sights we would stop to take some shots.
Dinner at Sukiya
We stopped by a Sukiya eatery for dinner. We had seen several Sukiya eateries so far during our trip but this was the first time we ate at Sukiya. Sukiya was some sort of Japanese fast food chain eatery. It had many outlets all over Japan.
Interesting the pricing was very reasonable and we like the food. We had beef and rice with a lot of onion and spring onion and the total cost of our two meals was ¥1030. Before the meal we were very tired but after the hot meal we felt very much energised. We decided not to return to our hotel room but to move to a night sightseeing spot.
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine
Our original plan was to visit Eikando temple for some night viewing and return again in the day time for a day visit. On second thought we decided not to visit Eikando twice as that would meant paying the entrance fee twice and after seeing it at night the day visit would lost its novelty.
We decided to replace Eikando temple night visit with a night visit to Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine. In our original itinerary our night visit to Hiyoshi Taisha shrine was scheduled for tomorrow evening. We brought it forward by a day.
The drive from Arashiyama to Hiyoshi Taisha was about 30km and the journey took about 45 minutes. By the time we reach the vicinity of Hiyoshi Taisha it was already dark.
I made a mistake of getting a mapcode that point to the middle of the shrine compound which did not have any road, so the car GPS could not bring us to the exact location. We ended up on a dark road, in a very dark empty ground, with no body around, no sign at all and no shrine in sight. We decided not to stop and move on until we see some familiar structures.
After a short while we reached a larger road and saw the lighted torii gate of Hiyoshi Taisha. We found a place to park our car and came down to explore.
This was the first time I saw a lighted torii gate at night. It was very beautiful. The vermilion colored torii gate took on a golden hue that was not seen in the day. We walked past the torii gate and came to a slope that led up to the Taisha. OMG it was so beautiful!The slope led up to another torii gate. The path up the slope were beautifully lighted on both sides. The golden lights shone upward to the underside of the “koyo” colored leaves that formed a canopy over the path. Green, yellow, red and orange leaves looked different when bathed in golden light. So beautiful, so stunning.
We got the whole magical place to ourselves, there was no other night visitor except us. Though we were alone we were not worried as Japan was a very crime free country. We strolled up the slope slowly enjoying every moment. The main hall of the shrine should be closed at this time of the night (10pm) which was fine with us because we were here to enjoy its lighted ground.
Our first “koyo” night out was the Eizan Railway Momiji (Maple Tree) tunnel last eve. Comparing tonight and last evening, I enjoyed tonight so much more because I got to walk at my own pace, stop and look till my heart’s content. As for last evening the sight was over in two minutes once the train ran past the tunnel.