Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, enchants the visitor at every turn. And it’s not just the temples and shrines. The modern buildings, too, command attention, none more so than the railway station, which we saw quite a bit of in our travels. It’s a massive glass-fronted edifice in the centre of the city, and you can travel to a rooftop garden via the escalators to take in the view – though only through glass panels, which reflect when you take a photo of course. Still, spectacular:
We set out to see some of the major sights on our second day in Kyoto, and on another bright and sunny morning, we walked south from the station the few blocks to began with the Toji temple, which dates from the eighth century, but what strikes the visitor immediately is the pagoda, the tallest in Japan, and one that has been cunningly built to survive earthquakes. The current structure is over three hundred years old, and is built to last.
We walked north of the station to seek out the Hongan-ji Temples. These massive complexes date back in parts to the sixteenth century, and remain very important sites for Japanese Buddhism. The first, Nishi Hongan-ji, has all sorts of treasures, including what’s thought to be the oldest Noh stage in Japan. The scale of the buildings was impressive, as was the air of quiet dedication about the place. All was calm and serene as we strolled around the grounds, and glimpsed inside the halls where some people were at prayer.
The Higashi temple was undergoing refurbishment, so we caught the bus back up to the Gion district, where we embarked on a walk around eastern Gion and Higashiyama. This district is very distinctive, almost a separate enclave, which has retained its traditional character. The paved streets are narrow, and quite touristy now, but the district is packed with architectural and cultural interest. We took the walk recommended in the guide book, which involved a steep trek up the hill to the Kiyomizu temple and then a stroll around the packed streets. The temple area was thronged with people, and we made the decision not to join the crowds, but to head for the little streets. It was the season for school trips, and everywhere we saw very well-organised groups of kids, all sporting distinctive caps to mark them out. Here’s a group joining the masses at the Kiyomizu temple:
Apparently, the Kiyomizu temple, founded in 778, is one of those places that every Japanese will visit at least once. Most of them seemed to be there that day! Back on the streets, it was not unusual to see people in traditional dress, often, we were told, hired for the occasion, so that the wearers could promenade around the area:
The streets are full of shops selling handicrafts to tourists, both foreign and Japanese. They are of very high quality, and priced appropriately. We just window-shopped. After another walk up the hill we arrived at the Kodai-ji Temple, next to which was, rather incongruously, the main coach park for the district. There is an impressive bell:
It was getting towards dusk by now, so we went out by the startlingly colourful Yasaka shrine and on to the bustling streets of fashionable Gion, where fashionistas and politicians mix.
That was enough for the day, especially since we had an early start the next morning. We really loved Kyoto, but we would be leaving it for our flying visit to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen the next day.
Big in Japan 4 by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.