Kiyomizu Temple (about four miles east of Kyoto Station) is one of the most impressive temples in all of Japan. Perched precariously on a steep hillside of My. Otowa, it is supported by 139 pillars and contains a 50-foot-high wooden veranda which juts out over a small valley, offering pleasant views of the nearby mountains and trees and of the city. The veranda is supported by 78 massive pillars and is so famous that there is an expression, “leaping off Kiyomizu platform” that means to “leap in the dark.”
In the Edo Period (1603-1867), worshipers leaped of the edge of the platform with the belief that if they survived their 13-meter fall their prayers would be answered. According to one record at least 234 people made the leap between 1694 and 1864, with the youngest being 12 and the oldest 80. The survival rate was 85 percent.
Kiyomizu is dedicated to Kannon, the 11-face Buddhist goddess of mercy. The original temple was founded in 804 by a warrior lord who converted to Buddhism after meeting a monk on a hunting trip who admonished him for killing a deer to give the animal’s blood to his pregnant wife. It and other buildings have been repeatedly destroyed in fires and battles and been rebuilt at least 10 times. The main hall of the present temple was built in 1633 by the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The stage of Kiyomizudera temple covers 190 square meters and stands 13 meters high. It was last rebuilt in 1633. The pillars, measuring nearly one meter in diameter, support the foundation of the main temple and the stage, The are made from zelkova trees said to 1,390 year old. In 2010 it was announced that Kiyomizudera will undergo its first full-scale repairs in more than a century including some restoration work and possible replacement of the pillars that support the temple.
Kiyomizu means “clear water temple.” This is a reference to small waterfall at the bottom of the ravine, where visitors can drink the “golden waters” which are believed to be sacred and have curative powers, with ladle-like cups. A number of walking paths weave around the temple, some of which that lead to small halls and pagodas and provide a variety of views of the main structure. At the Jishu shrine visitors walks 60 feet between a pair of stones. It is said that if you collide with the stone your aspirations for love will come true.
Kiyomizudera has long been a destination for pilgrims and is Kyoto most popular tourist destination, attracting about 4.5 million visitors a year. The crowds are thickest in cherry blossom and autumn leave seasons. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu Temple is often swamped with school and bus-tour groups. Leading up to the temple is a pedestrian-only street, called Teapoy Lane, lined with charming souvenir stands and shops. Some sweet shops give out free samples. Fake geishas are often spotted walking around here. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Kyoto Travel Guide kyoto.travel ;Oriental Architecture orientalarchitecture.com ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website
Sannenzaka Area (between Kiyomizu Temple and Yasaka Shrine) embraces three separate, sloped stages of pedestrian-only streets and walkways that are lined with tea houses with gardens, wooden houses, noodle restaurants and charming but expensive shop selling dolls, fans, Kiyomizu pottery, Nishijin weaving and souvenirs. The winding route through the Sannenzaka Area is one the most pleasant places in Kyoto to stroll around. Side streets lead to small temples, forested slopes, expensive inns and charming houses. The tourist office provide brochures detailing the route. Northeast Kyoto Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO
Kodaiji Temple (north of Kiyomizu Temple) was built by the widow of Toyotomi Hideoyishi to console the spirit of her husband. The garden surrounding the Kaisan-do Hall is designated a national historic and famous scenic place. Many treasures that were owned by the Hideoyoshi family are on displayed here.
Yasaka Shrine (north of Kodaiji Temple and east of Gion) is considered the symbol of Gion. With Maruyama Park in the background, this shrine is very popular among Kyotoites, many of whom come here to pray on important holidays. The main hall is built in a unique architectural style called Gion-zukuri. In July it hosts the Gion Matsuri, one of Japan's three biggest festivals.
Maruyama Park (next to Yasaka Shrine) is popular place for tired tourist to stop and take a break during a day of sightseeing. There a number of outdoor cafes, tea houses, beer stands and restaurants. During the spring it is favorite cherry-blossom viewing area. Particularly famous is a giant willow-like cherry tree.
Shoren-in Temple (north of Chion-in Temple) is an elegant temple built on site of a former refuge for the emperor. The present building dates to 1895. Inside the main hall are lovely sliding screen paintings made in the 16th and 17th centuries. Outside are some nice gardens. The principal Buddha image is over 1,000 years old and is said to bring good luck to the world by emitting powerful beams of light. The image is often kept stored away but is sometimes displayed n the late autumn when the temple is illuminated with blue light-emitting diodes.
bell at Chion-in Chion-in Temple (north of Maruyama Park) is a large Buddhist complex with a massive main hall that can seat 3,000 people and features squawking “bush warbler” floors and a lavishly decorated golden alter. The temple also contains the largest gate in Japan, the largest bell in Japan (a massive 74-ton bronze made in 1633 that requires 17 monks to ring) and a large 24-hectare expanse with 104 buildings. When Albert Einstein visited the temple in 1922 he is said to have been particularly charmed by the “bush warbler” corridor.
Chionin was founded in 1234. Some believe it was built up as a military fortress for the Tokugawa shogunate. The oldest buildings date back to the 17th century. The massive Sammon Gate is 24 meters high and 50 meters thick. From the balconies are splendid view os Kyoto. Some think the gate served as a watchtower in the event the temple was attacked. Some scenes from the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai were shot at the large stone stairway to the main temple precinct.
Unlike many of Kyoto's temples, which are primarily tourist sight, Chion-in is a still a working temple. The headquarters of the Jodo Buddhist school, it is buzzing with religious activity. Inside the main hall there are often prayer sessions going on, with dozens of chanting of shaven-headed monks. Visitors are welcome to take off their shoes and sit in for as long as they like.
Ringing the massive bell is an important New Year’s event. It takes 17 monks to ring the bell, 16 of them to raise the giant wooden hammer by pulling it away from the bell with hanging ropes, while the 17th monk rides the hammer, ready to push off with his legs in the split second before impact. The chime produced by the bell last for 20 minutes. The event is often shown at New Year’s broadcasts. When Einstein visited in 1922 he investigated the bell and said that the assertion that the bell was inaudible directly underneath it when it was struck was based on sound physics.
Chionin has a nightingale Floor: According to one theory, the corridor was designed to produce the sounds when people walk through it in order to alert residents to the presence of intruders. The corridor is connected to an overhead beam by brackets. Over time, as the lumber dried and contracted, minute cracks appeared, causing the corridor to emit sounds when people walk through it, probably because of friction between the floor planks and between the fixing brackets and the beam. Major repair work on Chionin, scheduled to start in 2005, however, will see a 310-meter section of its 550-meter corridor replaced with a new one. As a result, the 310-meter section will cease to make sounds. Chionin's corridor is expected to make sounds again in 50 to 100 years, according to temple officials.
Website: Choin-in English site chion-in.or.jp
Gion (Sijo train station) is Kyoto's most famous entertainment district. Located on the east side of the Kamogawa River, it is a good place to experience traditional Japanese culture or see some of the last geisha houses in Japan. The section of Gion between Shirakawa-Minamirdori Street and Shinbashidori Street has been designated a Historic Preservation Zone.
Traditional wooden townhouses found in Gion and elsewhere in Kyoto are called machiya . A typical one is six meters wide and 30 meters deep, has six tatami mat rooms, and is worth about $420,000. Many have lattice windows, stripped beams, Older unrestored ones have dirt floors and mushikomado windows framed by thick clay. They are designed to let cool breezes in during the summer. Today there are only 30,000 of them left (compared to 600,000 modern homes). Many were built by merchants in the Edo period. Today, preservationists are trying to keep the remaining machiya houses from being turn down. The best place to see then is around Kiyomizu-dera Temple in eastern Kyoto.
Ichiriki Ochaya, in the heart of Gion, is one of Japan’s most famous and exclusive entertainment establishments. Patronized b powerful and well-connected business leaders and politicians, it welcomes guests on an invitation only basis with the invitation sometimes taking generations to get. Food, drinks and geisha entertainment begins at around $8,000.
English-language tours of the Gion are sponsored by the Kyoto City Tourist Association in July, August and September. The 100-minute tours begins across from the Minami-za kabuki theater and stops at scenic spots such as Gion Shinbashi and Tatsuminbashi, both known for their old machiya houses and beautiful stone streets,, and Gion’s busy Hanamikoji street, where participants may catch glimpses of maiko and geisha. The tour fee is ¥1,000 per person. For information call (075)-752-0227. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Gion Corner at Yasaka Kaikan Hall features a one-hour show with quick demonstrations of seven different traditional art forms: the tea ceremony, flower arranging, koto music, gagaku (ancient court music), kyogen (traditionally comic drama), bunraku puppet drama and geisha-style women dances. Shows in English are conducted twice daily at 8:00pm and 9:10pm March through November. Website: Gion Corner kyoto-gion-corner.info
Kenninji Temple (near Gion) is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. Built in 1202 by the Priest Yosai (Eisai, 1141-1215), who is credited with introducing tea to Japan, the temple houses Fuji-Raijin-zu, a folded screen painting of the gods of wind and thunder made by famous painter Tawaraya Sotatsu in the 1600s. Unfortunately the painting and the temple’s other treasures are not always displayed. A small tea garden with bushes from China are located near a cenotaph commemorating Eisai.
Okazaki District (north of Gion) features narrow streets lined with traditional houses with weathered pine beams and grey tile roofs. Along side many of the houses are small gardens of ferns and bonsai trees surrounded by bamboo fences and brown stucco walls. Quiet and serene, it is only a block away from Marutamachi Dori, one of Kyoto's busiest shopping streets.
Geishas, Gion and Fake Geishas
19th century Kyoto tea house Geishas in Gion: Gion is also the home of the largest concentration of geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices) left in Japan today. The geisha houses are located in nondescript two-story machiya houses with wooden facades and bamboo shades that prevent people from looking inside. Since going inside a geisha houses is beyond the means of most people, your best chance of seeing a geisha live and in the flesh is to walk through Gion in the late afternoon when the geishas show up for work.
Several traditional teahouses and restaurants where geisha perform are located along Hananami-koji. Gion had 218 traditional teahouses, where geisha performed, in 1950; 123 in 1981; but only 80 on in 2000. There are four other geisha districts in Kyoto.
In the past geisha teahouses were the exclusive province of elite members and not open to just anybody but in recent years this exclusive clientele has dried up somewhat and geisha and the teahouses are looking for new sources of income. Gion and Pontocho and other places in Kyoto are now offering tourists a chance to experience geisha culture. These events are usually held at restaurants or hotels, not the teahouses and cost between ¥6,000 and ¥13,000 yen and feature a short chat with a couple of maiko geisha and performance of Kyomai dance. Programs ate sponsored by the Kyoto Tabi Kikakum tour company in Fushimi Ward in Kyoto.
Sometimes large groups of tourist flock to Gion in the evening to catch sight of geiko and maiko walking to work. There have been reports of tourists harassing the maiko. See Arts, Culture; Noh, Kabuki...Geisha. Websites: Photos of Gion geisha khulsey.com ; Geisha story thekeep.org
Geisha Transformation Centers: In Kyoto, there around 50 "geisha transformation" services that charge customers $40 to $300 to dress them in a wig, kimono and make up so they look like geishas. They are then allowed to walk on streets for a hour or two, with a chaperon to make sure they don't do anything that harms the reputation of real geishas, who aren't fond of the fake geishas but have learned to tolerate them.
Among those who have undergone the transformation are teenagers, grandmothers, office ladies, factory workers, foreigners and even a few men. After the undergo the transformation they take photographs with one another and allow tourists to photograph them, and giggle when they are mistaken for real geishas.
real or fake? Luchina Fisher, a black woman who went through a geisha transformation, wrote in the New York Times, "After we got into undershorts and knickers and put on tabi, the white socks that button the sides and fit like mittens, the women set replicating the looks we had chosen from a photo album. Clad entirely in black, they worked quietly with the concentration of artists."
"One took what looked like a paint brush and covered my entire face with a heavy white paste, so that my moles and even my eyebrows were no longer visible. After a dousing of white powder, she took a smaller brush and painted strokes of pink in wide arcs around my eyes and cheekbones."
"Next, she places a piece of cardboard on the back of my neck and painted by neck and back with more white makeup. When she removed the cardboard three slivers of brown skin remained...the sanbon-ashu, or three-legged design, meant to show off the most erotic par of the body—the neck...The same woman gave me new eyebrows in a sweep...She lined my eyes in black and a dab of red in each corner to accentuate their almond shape. Lastly she painted a pair of scarlet lips on the center of my mouth."
"On the other side of the room,” Fisher wrote. “I stood with my arms up while the dresser tied what looked like little pillows around my hips and bustline...The extra padding keeps the kimono from bunching at the waist. Next came a red under robe, visible at the collar and whenever I lifted the hem of my kimono."
"The kimono I had chosen was black with swirl of white, pink and gold fans at the bottom. It was given a brocaded gold obi, which had been wrapped around my waist and cleverly folded in back. When the dresser finished I noticed my hips and bottom had disappeared under cylindrical geisha shape."
"Finally, I was crowned with a wig, about five pounds of human hair swept away from face in an elaborate chignon and held in place with a large tortoise-shell combs." The wig was adjusted with soft pads underneath and kept it in place was a balancing act. "A flower and hair ornament were added to the front, and a folded fan was tucked in my obi."
Some of studios also turn men into samurais and shoguns and women into Heian princesses, characters from Japanese literature or a courtesans with 12-layer court kimono.
The prices generally range from ¥7,000 to ¥35,000 depending in the type of costume and make-up desired. Visitors should expect to pay ¥10,000 to be dressed as a maiko and somewhat less to be a geisha. There often additional charges for walking around outside and having studio pictures taken.
The studios often require reservations at least several days in advance and are particularly busy on the weekends and around cherry blossom season in April and maple season in October and November. Kyoto Tourist Information Center can provide you with list and information on Geisha Transformation Centers. Call ☎ (075)-371-5649. For a more authentic tayu look, complete makeovers are offered by the Japan Hairstyle Museum (☎075-551-9071) for ¥50,000.
Website: Bzzangent bzzagent.com
Heian Shrine Area
Heian Shrine (west of Okazaki Park and accessible from Higashiyama Station in the Tozai subway line) contains several buildings spread around a huge courtyard and landscaped garden. A 5/8 scaled version of the original Imperial Palace, it was constructed in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Kammu (A.D. 781-806). The shrine has three ponds and five gardens which are admired for its cherry blossoms and iris flowers in season.
Many people complain that the bright red buildings are too gaudy and the garden is nice but isn't necessary worth the ¥500 admission charge. Two major event are held at the temple: Jidai Matsuri, featuring 2,000 people in period costumes, on October 22nd and Takigi Noh, with firelit Noh performances, on June 1st and 2nd.
Museums Near Heian Shrine (Higashiyama Station in the Tozai subway line) include Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Fureaikan Kyoto Museum of Traditional Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Nomura Art Collection and Sumitomo Collection. There is a zoo nearby.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Traditional Industry (near Heian Shrine) is a relatively new museum. Not only does it have exhibits of various handicrafts made of silk, bamboo, lacquer, paper and ceramics, it also features demonstrations of centuries-old production methods by skills craftsmen and craftswomen.
Nanzenji Temple (east of Okazaki Park) is a pleasant Zen temple with a large grounds and many buildings. Originally a retirement villa for the Emperor Kameyama, who died in 1291, it is famous for its Sammon Gate, and the Karensansui (dry-landscape) garden laid out with rocks and white sand. Most of the present buildings date to the 17th century.
In the Main Hall there is sliding screen painting of a tiger drinking water made in the 16th century by the artists of the Kano School who had never seen a real tiger and relied descriptions from Chinese and Indian sources. The result is a tiger that looks a dog. A path in the forest leads to a small shrine near a waterfall, under which monks pray in the middle of winter. From here hiking trails lead to Mt. Daimonji.
Yogenin (Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto) is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto famous for its nightingale floor. The wood-floored corridor in the main hall of the temple is called the "uguisu-bari no roka" (nightingale corridor) because its produces chirping sounds similar to those of a small bird when visitors moves through the corridor.
According to one theory, the corridor was designed to produce the sounds when people walk through it in order to alert residents to the presence of intruders. The corridor is connected to an overhead beam by brackets. Over time, as the lumber dried and contracted, minute cracks appeared, causing the corridor to emit sounds when people walk through it, probably because of friction between the floor planks and between the fixing brackets and the beam.Other temples or structures with corridors similar to those at Yogenin include Chionin, the main temple of the Jodo Buddhist sect in Kyoto, as well as Nijo Castle in the ancient capital.
Now the temple is on the verge of losing its sound. Beginning in January 2010 the temples started being overrun with tourists as it was featured in a popular television drama depicting the vicissitudes of the life of Go (1573-1626), a niece of warlord Oda Nobunaga and wife of shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, Kana Yokota wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Apparently, with the sharp rise in the number of visitors, the corridor's flooring has been wearing out and its special property of emitting birdlike sounds is being threatened, according to the temple.In a bid to stem the deterioration of the corridor's feature, temple authorities have posted a notice calling for visitors to "Please walk slowly!"
The corridor in the main hall measures about 12 meters long and two meters wide. A sliding door adorned with a lion-themed drawing by Tawaraya Sotatsu, a great artist of the early Edo period (1603-1867), as well as other classical artifacts, are on display on its walls.Yogenin officials said the temple previously received about 3,000 visitors a month, but that the number has doubled or tripled since the television drama started. There have been some visitors who go back and forth through the corridor, stomping on the floor for fun, presumably causing the corridor's fixing brackets to loosen.
About 30 percent of the corridor's surface has ceased to produce the attractive sounds they once did, according to the officials.It appears loosening the fixing brackets might have changed the way the corridor's planks rub against each other, they said.Repair work on the damaged corridor will take several years, and it will not be possible for sightseers to visit the temple during the repair period. Established in 1594 by Yodo, the elder sister of Go, for a memorial service for their father Asai Nagamasa, the temple was destroyed in a fire in 1619, but was rebuilt by Go later. On the grounds of the temple are the tombs of Go and her mother, Ichi, sister of Nobunaga.
Path of Philosophy and the Silver Temple
Path of Philosophy (between Nanzenji Temple and Ginkakuji Temple) is a relatively quiet, 1½-mile-long, tree-lined, path that follows Sousui Canal and takes visitors by several well known shrines and temples as well as ceramic shops and tea parlors. The path is particularly popular in spring when cherry trees are in full bloom and early summer when fireflies come out. It is called the "Path of Philosophy" because a noted Japanese philosopher, Nishida Ikutaro, used to stroll along the route for meditation.
Ginkakuji garden strong>Ginkakuji Temple (at the end of the Path of Philosophy) was originally erected in 1489 as a villa for Ashikaga Shogun, a powerful warlord and shogun in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Designated as a UNESCO World heritage Site, it is called the Silver ("Gin") Temple because the Shogun's originally wanted to cover the outer walls with silver foil. His wish was not realized because of his death, however, but the name has remained.
The main Zen-style building overlooks a pond surrounded by one of the best examples of a stroll style garden in Japan. The garden in fact is much more interesting than the temple. A path through garden meanders through a hillsides and passes moss-covered ground, trees, and a dry garden with white sand waves Ginsyadan (the Sea of Silver Sand) and decapitated cone of Kougetsudai (the Moon Mound), which represents Mt. Fuji.
There are some lovely sliding door paintings inside the buildings but you have to pay extra to see them. The most enjoyable thing to do is sit on the edges of the main hall and enjoy the view of the garden and the pond. Websites: Yamasa yamasa.org ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website
Image Sources: 1) 3) 5) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 2) 4) 7) Kyoto Prefecture Tourism 6) Twin Isles 8) Ray Kinnane
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