Kinkakuji Temple (No.59 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) means Temple of the Golden Pavilion but the proper name of the temple is actually Rokuonji. Originally a mountain villa for the Ashikaga Shogun, but converted into a temple after his death, this gold-leaf-covered pavilion overlooks a small pond and has a beautifully laid out garden that covers 17,800 square meters. The view of the temple reflected in the man-made pond in the garden is one of classic Japanese images.
The original pavilion stood for over 550 years before it was burnt to the ground by a fanatical novice monk in 1950. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) is a fictionalized story of the arsonist monk. The present building is a replica completed in 1955 and outfit with a sophisticated fire safety system, which pumps water from the pond and douses the temple a high-powered spray. Occasionally fire drills involving 60 firefighters, two helicopters and seven fire trucks are held.
Kinkakuji Temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
The famous Golden Pavilion is a three level structure with each level constructed in a different architectural style. The first floor is the shinden-sukuri style, traditionally used in residences of court nobles. The second floor is in the shoin-zukuri style found in mansions of the samurai elite in Kamakura period (1192-1333). The third floor is modeled after a Zen temple. The second and third floors are covered by gold leaf, which is five times thicker than the original. The Chinese-style roof is thatched with shingles.
Visitors to the temple are required to follow a one way roped off path. Turning around or wandering off the path is not allowed. The pond in front of the main temple is called Kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond). It contains many small island. A group of steps leads to another, smaller pond with an island pagoda raised in memory of a white snake. On the way to the exist you pass a classic teahouse and a small shrine with a stone Fudo-myoo enshrined as a guardian.
The original Kinkakuji Temple was built in 1397 under Askikaga Yoshiimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, who had a residence built nearby. The current structure achieves its shiny, goldenness from layers of gold foil applied with lacquer over all the external walls, along with pillars, poles and beams of the second and third floors. The main coat of gold dates back to 1987 when 200,000 gold foils, weighing 20 kilograms, were applied by a team of 60 people, including laquer masters.
Gold also covers the walls and ceilings of Kukkyocho Hall, housing a small pagoda with bone fragments of the Buddha, on the third floor. The floor is covered by a polished, mirrorlike, jet-black layer of lacquer and is illuminated by natural light coming through the Zen-style Katomado windows. . Unfortunately this hall is rarely viewed b the public. The second floor is comprise of lacquered walls and floor. It houses statues of Kannon and Shiteno.
The gold is maintained by a single person, Takesato Yagyu, who spends long hours applying the gold foil sheets—which are 10.8 centimeters square as thin as five 10,000th of a millimeter—with an underlayer of adhesive lacquer. The gold foil can easily wrinkle when applied and get scratched when cleaned or dusted.
The work can only ne done when the weather conditions are just right. When Yagyu is working he wears long sleeves to prevent sweat from damaging the foils and polishes the foil with silk floss. When he works on ceiling he holds his breath to minimize the gaps between sheets that breathing creates. Yagyu generally only works before and after the temple closes and closely watches weather reports. High humidity caused causes the lacquer to dry quicker. In high temperatures the adhesives becomes soft and less sticky.
Kinkakuji Temple belongs to the Rinzai sect. About 1.5 million people visit it every year. In autumn the maples around the temple turn a deep red color. In the winter it is occasionally blanketed with snow. The largest island in the pond is said to be representation of Japan with the smaller islands symbolizing things like cranes and tortoises.
Ryoanji Temple and Garden
Ryoanji Temple (No. 59 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) is a Zen temple established in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is belongs to the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and is best known for its dry landscape garden. The temple was once large than it is now as destroyed over the years by fire have not been rebuilt. Toyotomi Hideoyishi, the warlord who reunified Japan in 1590, is buried here with his wife and son.
The temple grounds are comprised of old soil and new soil mixed with saltwater and lime. In the strolling garden are cedars, whose branches are sawed off when the tree is young and trained to grow straight up. A stone basin in back of the abbot’s quarters has Chinese characters that read: “I just know satisfaction.” Websites: Ryoanji site ryoanji.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ;
Ryoanji Garden (at Ryoanji Temple) is one of the most famous gardens in Japan and an exquisite example of a dry landscape-style garden. Consisting of 15 rocks of various sizes, well placed on a carefully-raked bed of white gravel, this small garden was created sometime between 1499 and 1507 by Zen monks and covers 256 square meters. There are no trees or shrubs. the only green is from moss that grows on some of the rocks. One scholar described it as "a beautiful poem, a simple statuary, a deep philosophy, a wonderful picture...and a profound religion."
The 15 rocks and white gravel are supposed to imitate water. From nowhere except the temple can the rocks all be seen at once. The rocks are divided into five groups of two, three or five. Each group can be regarded as the cardinal directions and the center, which some interpret as representing existence and the universe But reading too much meaning into the garden defies the Zen aesthetic of simplicity and austerity. Many believe the stones represent a range of mountains or a coastal scene or a dry waterfall.
The creators of the garden are not known. Two names are carved on of the rocks but its is not known whether the are names of designers, laborers or ancient tourists. It is a good idea to go early to this garden if you want to contemplate its simple beauty without being engulfed by school groups and tourists.
Koryuji Temple (No. 11 bus from Sanjyo-Keihan Station on Tozai subway line) is one of the oldest temples in Japan. Founded in A.D. 622, it is famous for its wooden sculptures and ancient statues—some of the oldest works of art in Japan— created by Korean artisans in the Asuka Period.
The Lecture Hall contains a 9th century Buddha flanked by manifestations of Kannon. Most of the famous statues, including the Crying Miroku, are in the Treasury House. The Miroku Bosatsu statue in the main hall is a beautiful wooden statue noted for its peaceful smile. In 1960, a college student was so overwhelmed by its beauty he embraced it and snapped off one its fingers.
Koryuji sustained more damage than any other Kyoto monument during the 1995 Kobe earthquake: some cracks appeared in the walls and the left arm of a 13th century statue of a servant and the right arm of 9th century statue of a Goddess of Mercy fell off.
Arashiyama in the 19th century
Arashiyama (JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is famous for its mountains, temples, gardens and autumn colors, when Japanese maples that turn scarlet, yellow and purple during a fall season that can extend into December.
Togetsukyo Bridge is the main landmark in Arashiyama. Other major sights include the of beautiful Tenryuji Temple, Jojakko Temple, and Nakonoshima Park. Cormorant fishing is done on the Hozu River at night during July and August. Boats that get close enough to see anything charge ¥1,300. Further downstream the Hozu River becomes the Katsura River.
There are nice walks along the river and lots of shops, selling ceramics and interesting items, and restaurants. It is also a nice place to explore by bicycle. Bicycle can rented near the train station. Young people in traditional costumes take people around in rickshaws starting at around ¥2,000.
Tenryuji Temple (Arashiyama) was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Originally an imperial villa, where the Emperor Godaido grew up and was educated, it was established by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji in 1339 as a Zen temple and now is a popular place to view screen paintings and maple trees in the autumn.
The garden at Tenryuji is one of Japan's oldest. Designed to evoke an image of Mt. Horai in China, it blends the elegance of an imperial court garden with the austerity of a classic Zen garden and incorporates the local Kameyama and Arashiyama mountains. In the center of the garden is a large pond shaped like Chinese character for heart (kokoro ). In the north of the garden is a small water-less waterfall. Leading to the temple is a large bamboo grove where the famed poet Basho lived for a while in a small hut and the famous samurai film actor Denjiro Okochi had a villa.
Website: Japanese Lifestyle japaneselifestyle.com
Edo Fuzoku Hihokan (Kiyotaki Kanko Center, 15 minute taxi ride from Arashiyama Hankyu station) contains an interesting collection of Edo Period erotica, which includes "pillow books" given by mothers to their daughters on their wedding night; shunga erotic woodblock prints; a variety of objects, such as statues and rice-spatulas, with secret images of vaginas and penises.
Jojakkoji Temple (Arashiyama) is located on the side of Mt. Ogura. Featuring a 12-meter-high pagoda, it is regarded as one of Kyoto's best maple-leaf-viewing places. From here is a 10 minute walk to beautifully situated Nisson-in Temple and an addition 25 minute walk to Daikaku-ji Temple. A detour leads to the Adashino Nembutsu Temple, where the bones of the destitute were taken and memorialized with stone statues.
Monkeys, Trains and River Trips in Arashiyama
Hozu river trip Iwatayama Monkey Park (Arashiyama) contains a troupe of snow monkeys that roam free on the forested slopes of Arashiyama (Storm Mountain). A train ride is also feature along a gorge on the Katsura River.
Sagano Scenic Train (JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is tourist railway that follows the Hozugawa River Gorge and was opened in 1991. The trip is short and expensive but popular during the spring cherry-viewing and fall maple-leaf viewing season. The passenger cars have roofs but are open and the sides. May people get off in Kameoka and return on the popular river ride. Website: Sagano train site sagano-kanko.co
Hozu River Trip (accessible by Sagano Scenic Train and the JR San-in line from Kyoto Station) is done on long narrow boats. The down river trip begins at Kameoka Station and takes one hour and 45 minutes to cover the 16 kilometer distance to the finishing point at Togetsukyo Bridge in the middle of Arashiyama. The route was first used in 1606 to carry rice and vegetables from local farms to Kyoto.
Boats operate on Hozugawa river all year. The spring rafting season begins in March. On the busiest days of the year in October and November up to 100 boats make the trip. Each boat is propelled forward by a punter and oars man and steered from the back by a helmsman. Up to 30 people can ride in each boat. Most of the journey is in swift but relatively calm waters. There are a couple of exhilarating stretches through small rapids but nothing large. Wildlife seen in the mountains includes herons, nightingales, deer, boars and monkeys. The cost of the trip is ¥3,900 for adults and ¥2,500 for children. Website: Kyoto Visitors kyotovisitors.blogspot.com
Villas and Gardens in Southwest Kyoto
Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa Gardens (No. 33 bus from Kyoto Station in southwest Kyoto) is regarded as one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture. Built in the 17th century by Prince Toshihito, the brother of the Emperor, it is a beautifully arranged complex with a main villa, tea houses, and garden.
Katsura Rikyu boasts a lovely pleasure-style garden. Covering 45,000 square meters, it consists of stones, pine trees, flowers and foliage set up around a series of paths that lead to delicately constructed tea houses around a pond fed by the Katsura River. Frequent rains keep the dense azaleas and camellias almost permanently damp.
Katsura Rikyu ranked No. 2 as the best garden in Japan by the U.S. publication the Journal of Japanese Gardening . The gardens at Adachi Museum in Yasugi Shimane have been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years.
Katsura requires special permission to visit it. Reservations are made at Imperial Household Agency on the west side of Imperial Palace Gardens (near the Imadegawa subway station). Requests sometimes have to be made three months in advance.
Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Imperial Household Agency sankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Tour of Katsura Rikyu katsura-rikyu.50webs.com
Saiho-ji Temple Moss Garden (No. 29 bus from Shijo Street Station on Karasuma subway line in southwest Kyoto) is Kyoto's most famous garden and one the most famous gardens in the world. Brochures say that 120 varieties of lush green moss flourish in the heavily wooded garden, but the true figure is closer to 20. The best to time see the garden is after a rain storm when the trees and moss are dripping wet and steamy sunbeams pierce the shade. Admission is limited to 100 visitors at one time and booking has to be done up to 90 days in advance.
Costing around $30 and starting at exactly 10:00am, the tours begin with a visit to the temple, where guests pray and write their name with a calligraphy brush, and then follow a path from the temple that leads past carefully-placed rocks, treasured pines, Japanese maples, Hinoki cypress, sugi (Japanese redwood), towering sasanqua—all surrounded by carpets of moss in varying intensities of green, dark green and yellowish green. If you walk slowly, the tour group forges ahead, while you can stroll serenely and soak up the damp beauty. Websites: Welcome to Kyoto pref.kyoto.jp ; Photos phototravels.net
Jizo-in Temple (a few minute walk from Saiho-ji Temple) is sometimes called the poor man's Saiho-ji Temple. The temple is modest and the moss garden has received nearly as much attention as its neighbor. It is a nice place to relax and contemplate.
Toei Uzumasa Movie Land
Toei Uzumasa Movie Land (Uzumasa Station on the Keifuka train line) contains large open sets and full-scale model of feudal houses and streets. Sometimes there are actors and actresses in samurai armor and geisha outfits walking around. Many Edo Period movie and television dramas are filmed here. If shooting is going on when you visit you're welcome to watch.
Toei Movie Land was established 1975. It welcomes about 1 million visitors a year and contains a small movie-making museum Misora Hall, dedicated to Japan's most famous singer, opened in 1991 and cost $55 million, most of it yakuza money, according to some sources. At the park it is possible to rent a samurai outfit or another traditional Japanese costume and spend the day strolling around in it. Most of the visitors are Japanese. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Sights in South Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (Inari Station on the JR Nara line) is the main shrine of more than 30,000 Inari Shinto shrines scattered throughout Japan. Located on the slopes of Mt. Inari, it consist of five shrines dedicated to gods of rice and sake by the Hata family in the 8th century.
The most impressive thing about Fushimi Inari are the 10,000 red painted Torii gates and hundreds of shrine statues of foxes (messengers of the shrine) that line the 2½ mile path up the hill to the shrine and around it. The gates were featured in the film Memoirs of a Geisha. The foxes were donated by followers. Some of the restaurants on the approach to the shrine sell barbecued sparrow. Websites: Japan Reference jref.com ; Fast Rider farstrider.net ; Photos jref.com ;
Gekkeikan Sake Brewery Tour (Fushimi) is sponsored by the world's leading producer of sake at old traditionally warehouse. The tours are in Japanese. There are 37 sake breweries in the Fushimi area. Most Gekkeikan sake is made at a large modern facility on Osaka. Website: Gekkeikan Gekkeikan
Daigoji (on Mt. Daigo) has been designated a World Heritage Site. Original built in A.D. 874, it was the 11th stop on a pilgrimages route of 33 temples in western Japan dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon. The temple grounds cover 6.6 million square meters. Yakishido hall, Sanbio hall and Kondo hall have been designated national treasures. The pagoda is the oldest-surviving wooden structure Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted a cherry-viewing party here at Sanbion garden, which has been designated by the government as a place of scenic beauty. In August 2008 the temple’s Junteo Kannondo hall was destroyed by a fire.
Other Sights in Southern Kyoto include Sennyuji Temple, Sampo-in Temple, Hoju-in Treasure House, Mampuki-ji Temple, Kanshuji Temple, Zuishin-in Temple, Jonangu Shrine and the Sake Warehouses in Fushimi.
Uji (between Osaka, Kyoto and Nara) is riverside town that lies in the heart of a major green tea growing district. The setting for the last 10 chapters of the Tale of Genji, it contains one famous temple, one famous shrine, some charming tea houses and many inns and restaurants along the Uji River. Uji Bridge is the oldest stone bridge of its kind in Japan.
Uji is famous for green tea. Shops sell green tea flavored ice cream, green tea noodles and shaved ice with green tea syrup along with other green tea goodies. Outside the town you can do some pleasant walks through tea plantations and forests. A map given out at the tourist office near the train station shows where some of the ea fields are.
Cormorant fishing is done on Uji River from mid June to the end of August. There are good cherry blossoms on an island in the river in late March and early April. In the autumn there are good maple leaves around some of the temples.
Byodoin Temple (in Uji) is one the last surviving structures from Heian period (704-1185). Built in 1052 as a villa for Kyoto nobleman, who may been the inspiration for the hero Genji, it contains the famous Phoenix Hall, with its gracefully upswept eaves and two bronze phoenixes on the gables of the main roof.
Inspired by the Chinese version of the mythological bird, a protector Buddha, the Phoenix Hall of Byodion temple is pictured on the ¥10 coin and was inspiration for the some buildings by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is beautifully situated in front of a pond and contains a famous 11th century statue of Amida and the 52 Bodhisattvas.
Byodoin Temple Byodoin Temple contains perhaps the best remaining example if a pleasure boat style garden. The temple was designated a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. The nearby Homotsukan Treasure House contains the original temple bell, phoenix roof adornments and door paintings.
Christal Whelan wrote in Daily Yomiuri: Byodoin temple's graceful Phoenix Hall (depicted on the back of the 10 yen coin) in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, is located in one of the few gardens remaining in a style that dates back to the A.D. 6th century. It is on the artificial island of Nakajima, which was built up and broadened with stones from a "seed" islet in the midst of a mirror-like pond. The Hall is meant to represent Amitabha Buddha's palace in the Western Paradise as described in the Infinite Life Sutra. Symbolic islands such as this one are visual aids for a living faith and serve to draw the remote near and allow the viewer to become more intimate with the transcendent.
Ujigama Shrine (in Uji) was constructed in the 10th century and is said to be oldest extant shrine building in Japan. Dedicated to a prince, who tragically committed suicide after a quarrel with his brother, it was designated a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website
Other Sights in Uji include Uji Shrine, Uji Municipal Botanical Garden, Hakusan Shrine, Eshin-in Temple, Agata Shrine, Hasjidera Hojoin Temple, Hashihime Shrine, Koshoji Temple and Mimurotoji Temple. Obakusan-Manpukuji Temple house is the largest teak building in Japan. Embracing many Chinese elements, it was founded by the Chinese monk Yinyuan Longqi (1592-1673), who found the last of three Japanese Zen sects and introduced Chinese styles of cooking to Japan.
Image Sources: 1) 2) 7) Ray Kinnane 3) Wikipedia 4) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 5) Kyoto Prefecture site 6) 8) 10) 11) Kyoto Visitors site 9) Aomolife
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays