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DAY 5 (2/3): FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan, 2016.12.07

On the summit of Mount Inari, there was a small Shinto shrine, and a shop selling candles and souvenirs.  The shop had yet opened its doors when we were there.  From the peak our only way was to head down.  We took our time and followed a different route to go down.  We ventured into a few quiet spots of small shrines and graves off the beaten track in the woods.  The descend was shorter than our uphill hike.  By the time we reached Yotsutsuji intersection again at midway, it was quite a different feeling with a whole lot more of visitors looking for the best lookout spot to take pictures.  We stopped by a few shrines to bow our heads, throw our coins, clap our hands and pay our respect to the Shinto deity.  As we approached the mountain foot, we were so grateful about the unique and delightful experience of the hike.  We felt a little sad for both the hike and our 5-day Kyoto trip were coming to an end.  We reached the final torii gate at around 10:40, exactly three hours from the beginning of the hike.

dsc_3993There was a small shrine at the peak of Mount Inari.  We went up, left some coins and felt grateful to have such nice weather for most of our stay in Kyoto.

01The shop at the peak had yet opened its doors.

dsc_3982The sun was higher and certainly brighter by 9:20 when we reached the peak.

03We chose a different route for the descend.

04There weren’t as many torii gates along the first part of this trail, and it felt like a walk in a densely forested hill.

dsc_3823Occasionally we would see the “donation price list” of torii gate along the trail.  Anyone, and in many cases tourists, could pay 1,302,000 Japanese yen to erect a vermilion torii gate to continue the tradition of the Senbon Torii (千本鳥居).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a few shops that were preparing to open for business.

07During our descend, we arrived at a forest opening where the peaceful sunlight shone through tree tops onto old graves and mini shrines.

08The air was crisp and fresh.  Everything was so peaceful and serene.

09There was a maintenance staff moving a few things here and there, but the atmosphere was otherwise supremely tranquil and spiritual.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter where we were on the trail of Mount Inari we could also find kitsune (fox) statues.

06Other than stone foxes, there were also occasional stone lions.

11And at one shrine, there was also a bronze horse statue.

12It was difficult to imagine how much work was needed to maintain all the thousands of small shrines and graves on Mount Inari, a spiritual destination ever since the first shrine was established here over 1300 years ago.

13There were layers upon layers of history, memories and wishes of different generations of worshipers at different corners on Mount Inari.

15Some of the temizuya (手水舎, purification pavilion) in front of the shrine was beautifully decorated.

16Despite simple, some small temizuya fit perfectly well with the naturalistic surroundings.

17The vermilion small torii offerings stood out no matter where they were placed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore reaching Yotsutsuji intersection, we passed by several shops housed in traditional wooden buildings right by the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was just past 10:15 when we returned to Yotsutsuji intersection.  The number of visitors was significantly more than earlier when we first came up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn maybe an hour or so, the shops and tea restaurants would be packed with visitors.  The famous dish at Inari was the kitsune udon (fox udon), a bowl of hot thick wheat noodles topped with pieces of fried tofu, supposedly the favorite food for foxes.

20After Yotsutsuji intersection, we basically followed the same route that we came up.

21One of the last shrine we passed by was Byakkosha (白狐社), a shrine dedicated to the deity of white foxes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vivid maples behind the last torii reminded us that autumn was almost over.  It was time for us to head back into city centre of Kyoto.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan

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DAY 5 (1/3): FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.07

For several years the famous Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted as the favorite tourist attraction in Kyoto on a number of travel websites.  The images of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates) winding up the Mount Inari (233m) and the clusters of miniature shrines and private graves hidden in the woods certainly nourish the public imagination of a mysterious old Japan.  We thought of visiting the shrine in late afternoon or early evening when the twilight was gradually fading away, shifting the tone of everything from orange to violet and then blue.  Somehow that wasn’t realized, and instead we chose to explore this highly popular and spiritual place early in the morning of our last day of the trip.  To beat the crowds, getting up before sunrise was crucial.  It was only a short JR train ride from Kyoto Station to Inari Station.  By the time we set foot at the entrance route of the Taisha it was a little before 7:30am.

01To make the most out of the last day in Kyoto, we get up before dawn and carried our backpack and luggage to Kyoto Station.  At daybreak, we bid farewell to the tranquil Shirakawa River in our Higashiyama neighborhood.

02At Kyoto Station, we stored our belongings at one of the many lockers and hopped onto a Nara-bounded train for Inari Station.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride to the peaceful Inari Station took only a few minutes, and the entrance route of Fushimi Inari Taisha was just right across the road.

***

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) was first established in the 8th century dedicated to Inari (稲荷大神), the God of Rice and Sake.  In the agricultural nation, the God of Rice was a powerful figure who governed the fortune of lives.  In the modern age, the power of Inari had been shifted to offer blessing on the prosperity of businesses and people’s lives in general.

04A large torii gate led us towards the Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate).

05The Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate) was a donation in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), the famous daimyō (大名, feudal warlord) who unified a large part of the country.

06There were only a few visitors at the Worship Hall in front of the Honden (Main Building).  After paying our respects, we couldn’t wait longer to begin the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari via the remarkable Senbon Torii.

***

On Mount Inari, two features stood out.  First was of course the vermilion torii gates.  Donated by individuals and business companies, there were over 5000 torii gates guiding our way up the Mount Inari.  The second feature was the kitsune (fox).  Uncounted statues of foxes appeared along the trail, usually came in pairs standing in front of the Shinto shrines.  Foxes were believed to be the Kenzoku, the messenger of god.

07We walked past the first pair of bronze fox statues right after the visit of the main shrine.  Many fox statues here carried a key in their mouth (to the rice granary).

08Our hike up the 4km trail began at this cluster of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates).

09Only a handful of visitors were there, such a blessing given this place is also famous for big visitor crowds throughout the day.  The record was 2.69 million during the 3 days of New Year period in 2006.

10Soon we arrived at the trailhead of the dual route.  Both route would ultimately converge back to a single path.  We picked the left route.

11From one direction, the Senbon Torii appeared clean and minimal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking back we could see columns of dates and donor’s names along the path as far as the eye could see.

14We stopped at most of the sub shrine along the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a while, the trail gradually turned steeper with stone steps.

18Half way through the ascend, the view from the Yotsutsuji Intersection was amazing in a clear morning.  Many tourists would turn back from here.

19We continued on the uphill journey, and stopped by a number of miniature shrines and grave clusters.  Mini fox statues, mini vermilion torii gates and candles were often seen as offerings.

20We often made detours from the trail into groups of mini shrines and graves.  We bumped into this what looked like a shrine guardian cat.

21The cat came from behind the shrine and jumped from a a stone stele to another, and finally stayed on a small tablet under the morning sun… just for a few seconds.

22A pair of stone lions and foxes were on guard by the small shrine of God of Rain.

23The early morning sun was nice and warm, and cast a magical highlight onto the torii gates.

24Fallen autumn leaves added an extra sense of solitude to the quiet trail.

26While at certain spots the autumn leaves gave a vivid background to the otherwise greyish setting of stones steles and statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we reached “Second Peak” we knew we were just minutes away from the peak.

27At around 9:15 we reached the top of Mount Inari, after about an hour and 45 minutes of hike.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 3 (4/7): PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.05

In the early 20th century, philosophy professor Kitaro Nishida (西田幾多郎) walked along the Shishigatani Canal daily to his office at Kyoto University.  Specialized in bridging philosophies of the East and West, Kitaro Nishida considered his daily commute as a way of Zen meditation.  In honor of this famous Japanese philosopher, this canal-side path is named as Tetsugaku no michi (哲学の道) or the Philosopher’s Path today.  This tranquil stone path runs north-south, linking a number of peaceful neighborhoods and temple grounds, from the neighborhood of Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺) to Ginkakuji Temple (銀閣寺) at the northern end.  In spring, the cherry-lined path is a highly popular venue for hanami or cherry blossom viewing events.  In autumn, the maples transformed the otherwise lush-green path into a colourful passage.  Occasionally lined with cafes, shops, restaurants and galleries, the Philosopher’s Path offers the best way for travelers like us to explore the Northern Higashiyama on foot.

After our visit at Nanzenji, we followed street signage, passed by the well known Eikando Temple (永観堂) before reaching the starting point of the Philosopher’s Path.  We walked rather slowly and spent over an hour on the 2km path.

01We passed by the gate of Eikando Temple (永観堂) enroute to the Philosopher’s Path.  Eikando Temple is another popular spot for viewing of autumn foliage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite online information stated that the autumn foliage at Eikando Temple (永観堂) had well passed its peak, there were still a number of beautiful maple trees in the temple’s forecourt.

03We wandered in the forecourt of Eikando Temple (永観堂) for a bit but decided to move on to the Philosopher’s Path.  We came to Kyoto a week too late for the peak autumn foliage at Eikando, Shinshogokurakuji (真如堂) and Konkaikomyoji (金戒光明寺) in this area, so we rather saved these till next time.

04The residential street with a vista of the Higashiyama Mountains led us to the starting point of the Philosopher’s Path.

05Some kind of red berries by the street added a bit of Christmas mood to our stroll.

06Soon we reached the starting point of the Philosopher’s Path right by the Shishigatani Canal.  Both the Shishigatani Canal and the aqueduct in Nanzenji Temple belong to the Lake Biwa Canal system that brings fresh water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto.

07The beginning portion of the Philosopher’s Path is a tree lined pathway along the Shishigatani Canal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn old abandoned wagon by the path was used as a cozy home for several cats.

08One of the cats was sunbathing near the wagon.

10Autumn leaves in a stone basin by the path.

11Despite autumn was almost over, the vivid foliage was still impressive at many spots.

12The Shishigatani Canal provided perfect reflection of the peaceful scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe air was cool and crisp.  Under the mid-morning sun we walked slowly along the waterside stone path towards Ginkakuji Temple.

15Water channels were everywhere, and some were even lifted up bridging over the Shishigatani Canal.

16The autumn palette made everything seemed so lovely.

17For most of the walk we were passing through sleepy residential neighborhoods.  While most houses looked traditional Japanese, this round one we passed by looked totally out of this world to us.

18After passing by several cafes and eateries, we finally decided to stop by a traditional rice cake shop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ordered mochi, chestnut rice cake, black-bean tea and amazake(甘酒), a type of traditional sweet drink made with fermented rice.

20Just as we left the Philosopher’s Path to make a detour to the Honenin (法然院), we passed by a private home with a healthy orange tree.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 3 (3/7): NANZENIN (南禅院) & TENJUAN (天授庵), Nanzenji (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.05

There are about a dozen of sub-temples in the Nanzenji compound.  After visiting the Hojo, we headed back to the Suiro-kaku Aqueduct.  A flight of steps behind the aqueduct led us to the upper platform of Nanzenji.  There we arrived at the entrance of Nanzenin (南禅院), one of the sub-temples of Nanzenji with a tranquil pond garden surrounded by lush-green forest.  Visitors were not allowed to enter the building, but we were able to tour the garden.  Centered at a small water pond, Nanzenin’s garden was designed in Chisen Kaiyu, or the pond strolling style.  A stone path led us around the pond.  Left of the pond, there was a elegant pavilion inside an enclosure wall.  It was the royal mausoleum of Emperor Kameyama (亀山天皇), the founding emperor of Nanzenji who converted his retirement villa into a Zen Buddhist temple in the 13th century.  According to a 15th century account, cherry trees from Yoshino, reed plants from Nanba, and maple trees from Tatsuta were transplanted, and frogs from Ide were released for the making of the garden.  The autumn foliage had just past its peak.  Most of the vivid red leaves had fallen into the pond, or scattered on the moss covered rocks around the pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe temple hall of Nanzenin (南禅院) was not open to the public.

02The water pond in Nanzenin’s garden was created in a heart shape.

03Much of the red leaves around the pond had fallen into the water.

04A sense of deep autumn on the moss-covered ground.

06Most of the stone path was damp and peaceful.

05The mausoleum of Emperor Kameyama (亀山天皇) elegantly stood at the left side of the pond.

07Moss covered a large area of the ground around the pond.

08_Outside Nanzenin, the remaining autumn foliage, dark timber structures and blue-grey roof tiles evoked a sense of solitude and serenity for the otherwise historical setting.

***

Lastly we came to Tenjuan Temple (天授庵), another sub-temple of Nanzenji dedicated to the Zen master who served Emperor Kameyama.  Constructed in 1337, Tenjuan contained both a dry rock garden and a wet pond garden.  We stepped into the complex of Tenjuan as the sun had climbed above the Higashiyama Mountains (Eastern Mountains), casting a touch of warmth into the gardens.  Similar to Nanzenin, we were not allowed to enter the building interior.  Instead, the main focus was again the two gardens.  In the dry rock garden, moss seemed grew naturally around stepping stones, creating a romantic ground cover on the gravel pool.  We sat at the veranda for a few minutes to admire the dry landscape. At the back, there was the Chisen Kaiyu or pond strolling garden.  Just like the garden at Nanzenin, we circled the pond at Tenjuan.  The stroll was quite interesting, especially at the part walking on the zigzag stepping stones across the water.  A school of koi or nishikigoi fish (錦鯉) swam freely in the pond.  When we stopped at the shore, the fish would swim over and gather right in front of us, perhaps hoping that we might feed them?  It was almost 10am by the time we finished with Tenjuan.  We decided to leave the compound of Nanzenji and found our way to the Philosopher’s Path.

09We bought our admission tickets at the entrance courtyard of Tenjuan (天授庵).  The main building was not open to the public.  We followed a side path into the gardens at the back to start our visit.

10The dry landscape of Tenjuan was dominant by the moss and paver patterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a pleasant morning strolling around the naturalistic pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe zigzag stepping stones was a neat feature in the journey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart of the journey brought us closer to the Tenjuan buildings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother feature was a timber bridge.  At this tie of the year the bridge was covered with autumn leaves.

14Maple and bamboo were two prominent natural features in the garden.

15The moss, fallen leaves and pond reflections offered a serene atmosphere around us.

16As we stood by the water to take photos, the koi fish approached us from afar.

17The koi fish gathered in front of us.

19Before leaving Nanzenji, the maples at the entrance court reminded us once again the season of late autumn.

 


DAY 2 (4/6): ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

Claimed to be the oldest Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) is a Buddhist temple famous for its zen gardens and traditional paintings in Gion (祇園).  Kenninji was founded in 1202 by Buddhist priest Eisai/Yousai (明菴栄西).  Two times Yousai went to China and brought back with him Zen scriptures and tea seeds, from which Zen Buddhism and the practice of green tea drinking flourished in Japan ever since.  As a result, Yousai was also considered to be the founder of the tea ceremony in Japan.  Since the 14th century, Kenninji was considered one of the five most important Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto, known as the Gozan (五山十刹制度) or the Five Mountain System.  Today, Kenninji stands at third in this ranking system, behind Tenryuji (天龍寺) and Shokokuji (相国寺), and ahead of Tofukuji (東福寺) and Manjuji (万寿寺).  On top of this five temples is Nanzenji, which serves as the leading Zen Buddhist temple in today’s Kyoto.

Today, with its meditation gardens, ancient teahouse, and timber halls, Kenninji serves as a tranquil oasis in the busy and dense neighborhood of Gion.  We entered the Kenninji compound from its North Gate at Hanamikoji Dori.  Once inside, we took off our shoes and paid our admission at Hojo (方丈).  Inside Hojo, one of the most popular art work on display was “Fujin and Raijin”, a pair of two-folded screen depicting the Wind and Thunder Gods by Tawaraya Sotatsu (俵屋 宗達) from the early 17 century.  The dry landscape garden in front of Hojo was also quite impressive, so as the traditional paintings on the sliding doors of the building, including the Cloud Dragon (雲龍図) and Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢図).  But for us, the most amazing artwork at Kenninji was Twin Dragons (双龍図), a 11.4m x 15.7m ceiling mural by Koizumi Junsaku in the Hatto (法堂), or Dharma Hall to celebrate the 800-year anniversary of the temple.  Completed in 2002, it took Koizumi Junsaku two years to finish this enormous ceiling painting in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaido.

Also worth noting was the Toyobo Tea-house, a two mat tea room dated back to the 16th century.  We peeked through an opening into the tea-house and saw a simple interior with tatami flooring and a semi-open partition supported by a natural wooden branch as column.  Before leaving, we spent a considerable period of time at Choontei Garden (潮音庭), a beautifully constructed zen garden surrounded by wooden verandas.  At Choontei, there were three stones at the centre of the courtyard, representing Buddha and two Zen monks.  Choontei was also the perfect courtyard to sit on the veranda and admire the autumn maples.  On our way out, we passed by another small courtyard which named as ○△□.  The serene garden introduces landscape components such as a tree in circular planter or a square area of gravel as visual representations of ○△□, which symbolized water, fire and earth.  The spiritual experience of the gardens, the lovely visual palette of the dark timber, green moss and crimson maples, and the refreshing breeze and warm sunlight enabled us to enjoy a moment of meditation.  Leaving this tranquil dimension, we would meander through Gion, cross the picturesque Kamo River, and enter the busy streets of Downtown Kyoto.

01Entering the Hojo (方丈) Hall, which was built in 1599.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing of the visit was to take off our shoes.

03Centuries-old timber structure of the Hojo (方丈) Hall.

04“Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God, is the most popular artworks in Kenninji Temple.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe semi open interior space of Hojo (方丈) allows sunlight to enter the building from different directions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors sitting by the veranda of Hojo to admire the dry landscape garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Cloud Dragon screen paintings at the Hojo were by 16th century artist Kaiho Yusho.

08The elegant prayer hall of Hojo with the painting of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢図) on the sliding screens.

09Zen Garden or the dry landscape garden at Hojo.

10Visitors relaxed themselves at the veranda in front of the Zen Garden.

10bWe saw quite a number of young women dressed traditional kimono dress in several sights of Kyoto, including Kenninji.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe enormous ceiling mural of Twin Dragons (双龍図) in the Hatto (法堂) or the Dharma Hall.

13Twin Dragons over the main altar at Hatto.

14A stone tsukubai (蹲踞) or stone waterbasin in the tea house garden of Kenninji.

15The minimalist Toyobo Tea-house was built in 1587.

16A path of stone pavers connected a prayer pavilion with the building’s veranda.

17Chouontei Garden (潮音庭) as viewed from the inside.

18Awesome autumn colours at Chouontei Garden (潮音庭).

19Deep sense of autumn at Chouontei Garden (潮音庭).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverview of Chouontei Garden (潮音庭), with the San-zon seki (the three stones that represent Buddha and two Zen monks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ○△□ Garden (○△□乃庭) was a simple Zen garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ○△□ symbolizes water, fire and earth.

21Leaving Kenninji behind, we were ready to venture into Downtown Kyoto to experience the other side of the ancient city.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 2 (2/6): KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

The Kiyomizu-dera in early morning offered quite a big contrast compared to our previous night visit.  Tranquility replaced commotion of excited crowds.  Soft sunlight took over artificial floodlights.  After entering the Nio-men Gate (仁王門), we walked up to the main temple platform along with several local visitors.    To avoid the tourist crowds coming in an hour or so, we first made our way to the Hondo (本堂), or the Main Hall.  At the entrance of the wooden Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台), we tried lifting the displayed Steel Geta and Steel Shakujou, two Buddhist objects dedicated to Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶), a 12th century warrior monk who was famous for his loyalty and strength.  We could lift up the lighter Shakujou (12 kg/26 lbs), but definitely not the heavy Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs).  We wandered on the wooden stage for a while, and went over to the deck of Okunoin Hall for an overview of the Main Hall, the colourful autumn maples and the distant skyline of Kyoto.

A flight of stone steps adjacent to the Main Hall led us to the popular Jishu Shrine (地主神社), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto (大国主命), a deity of love and matchmaking.  Perched above the thatched roof of the Main Hall, the Jishu Shrine is consisted of a cluster of small shrines around a main shrine.  The shrine is popular for lonely hearts who are seeking for real love, as well as couples who are praying for consolidation of their relationships.  At the forecourt of Jishu, two rocks stand 18m apart from each other.  Legend said that if one can walk from one rock to the other with their eyes shut, then their wishes for love would come true.  Names of donors from all over Japan and foreign countries are displayed inside and outside the shrine, indicating just how universal a simple wish for love is.  Apart from love, visitors also come to pray for good fortunate and safety for their family, and smooth delivery for their babies.

As we descended back to the Main Hall, the sun had finally moved above the mountain and shined on the temple buildings.  We made a detour to the temple forecourt for a few more pictures of the buildings under the morning sun.  We then walked south towards the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, at the far end of the valley.  Standing right by the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda and looked across the valley, we had a great view of the Kiyomizu-dera as the shadow of eastern mountains gradually receded.  We continued down the valley path to the base of Kiyomizu Stage, where we encountered multiple groups of school students who came for a school trip with their teachers and tour guides.  A large group of the school students gathered at the Otowa Waterfall, waiting for their turn to taste the sacred water from one of the three waterfall streams.  Given the super long queue, we gave up the idea of trying it ourselves.  After a night stroll and an early morning visit, we truly enjoyed Kiyomizu-dera with its magnificent timber architecture, spiritual atmosphere, natural setting, and views of the city.  It was time for us to move on to other places in Higashiyama and Gion before the afternoon rain arrived.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the temple from the main gate of Nio-men (仁王門) and walked up to the main temple platform.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors tried to lift the Steel Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs) and Steel Shakujou (12 kg/ 26 lbs) at the entrance of Kiyomizu Stage.

06The Main Hall and Stage of Kiyomizu-dera would soon be covered in scaffolding for a major renovation.

07The crimson maples in front of the Kiyomizu Stage offered a poetic sense of autumn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were only several local visitors around, allowing us to enjoy the temple peacefully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was well past the peak moment but the autumn foliage was still a major enhancement to our visit of Kiyomizu-dera.

05Out the wooden balustrade, we could see the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda at the far end of the valley.

05bAutumn colours at the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.

08The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage as seen from the deck of Okunoin Hall.

09Close up of the structure of Kiyomizu Stage and the valley path.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe stair that led us up to the Jishu Shrine, a sacred place for worshipers seeking for fortune of love.

11One of the two love stones in the forecourt of Jishu Shrine.

12The main shrine of Jishu Shrine was covered with names of donors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the several small shrines at Jishu Shrine where worshipers can make a variety of prayers and wishes, from good fortune to smooth childbirth.

14Okuninushi no Mikoto, the deity of love and matchmaking, and his messager the rabbit.

15Kyodo, the Sutra Hall and Sanjunoto, the Three-storey Pagoda under the morning sun.

16The morning warmed up as the shadow of the eastern mountains receded from the autumn maples below Kiyomizu Stage.

dsc_2023Not until we reached the far end of the valley that we realized the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, was actually quite small.

18Overview of Kiyomizu-dera as seen from Koyasu-no-to Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe valley path below Kiyomizu Stage was packed with school groups.

20Many students were interested for a sip of the sacred water at the Otowa Waterfall.

21It was already 9:30am when we left Kiyomizu-dera.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 1 (5/6): KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

We left Kinkakuji slightly after 4pm.  With the aid of Google map on our phone, we walked southeast into a residential neighborhood along Tenjin River.  Our destination was Kitano Tenmangu (北野天満宮).  Founded in 947 AD, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was the main shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and politician in Heian Period (AD 794 – 1185).  Among a number of divine identities, Michizane is best known for being the “god of academics “.  Today Kitano Tenmangu is still popular with students.  For tourists, Kitano Tenmangu is an interesting place to check out the flea market on the 25th of every month, and the Ume (plum) Blossom Festival on February 25 when geiko and maiko from Kamishichiken would come and serve tea and wagashi (traditional Japanese confections) to 3000 guests.  For us, we came for the annual autumn leaves when the shrine would open at night from mid November to early December.  We came just in time to see the autumn colours at the second last night of the season.

We reached the side entrance of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine at about 4:30pm.  The shrine was quite busy, not only with worshipers, but also visitors who came for the autumn colours and festival events. Near the main shrine courtyard there was live guitar performance at a corner.  Apparently there was a two-day festival at Kitano Tenmangu called Kyoto Nippon Festival, aiming to showcase the culture, food, and music of Japan.  Before checking out the 300+ maple trees in the garden, we were lured over to another courtyard where a dozen or so food stalls were set up.  Since breakfast on our red-eye flight, we hardly had any food throughout the day.  We were more than happy to devour a few dishes of delicious snacks prepared by staff from different restaurants in Kyoto, which included dumplings, seafood rice, and vegetable soba.

Our spirits were lifted after having the delicious snacks.  The sky was getting pretty dark despite it was only 5:15pm.  We headed back to the main court of Kitano Tenmangu, paid the admission for the night visit, and entered the shrine garden.  Along the way, we passed by another courtyard where a stage was set up.  A female pop singer was performing a lovely ballad in front of a crowd of audience.  We didn’t have the concert tickets so we couldn’t get in, but the music and vocal were loud enough for everyone in the garden to enjoy.  Artificial floodlights were everywhere to illuminate the colourful maples.  Despite the cool weather, the atmosphere was warm with the autumn colours and lovely music.  The garden was divided into two parts: the upper and lower.  We started at the upper garden where the main path soared above a ravine (lower part) on one side, and overlooked the main shrine buildings on the other side.  With the lights and lanterns lit up, the dark timber structures and reed roofs and the shimmering golden ornaments of the shrine buildings looked splendid.  After the upper garden, we walked down the stair to the lower ravine.  Walking along a small river and admiring the colourful tree canopies lit up from below was like a scene from dream.  The highlight of the lower ravine was the red arched bridge.  A large crowd of visitors gathered on the bridge to take photos of the surreal scenery.  The path eventually brought us back up to a platform on the upper garden, where a tea shelter was set up.  All  visitors were free to pick up a cup of hot tea and a traditional sweet confectionery.  We lingered for a little longer in the compound of Kitano Tenmangu.  With all kinds of activities from garden visits, food services, Ikebana (生け花) or Japanese flower arrangement exhibition, live music, and spiritual worshiping, Kitano Tenmangu had truly become an interesting venue of autumn carnival.  On our way out of Kitano Tenmangu, we dropped by the food stalls again and picked up a small plate of octopus balls.

01As evening arrived, visitors flocked into the main gate of Kitano Tenmangu.

02We were overjoyed to find food stalls in Kitano Tenmangu.  We couldn’t resist but to check out the food before seeing anything else.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ordered fried dumplings, vegetable soba and seafood rice.

04After the delicious snacks, we reentered the main court of Kitano Tenmangu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe immediately lined up to get the admission tickets into the garden of Kitano Tenmangu.

dsc_1368As we walked into the garden, we passed by a courtyard enclosed with purple and white fabric where a mini outdoor concert was taking place as part of the Kyoto Nippon Festival.

06Under the lovely music, we strolled around the upper part of the garden to admire the  autumn foliage.

07Behind the magnificent autumn maples stood the main buildings of Kitano Tenmangu.

dsc_1425With floodlights and lanterns, the golden ornaments of Kitano Tenmangu glittered under the indigo sky.

dsc_1436Looking down to the lower ravine from the upper garden.

dsc_1442After walking through the upper garden we headed down to the lower ravine.

08Looking up to the colourful tree canopies from the lower ravine.

09The highlight of the lower ravine was the red arched bridge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching the red arched bridge.

11Visitors gathered on the bridge to admire the autumn colours of the river ravine.

img_8763_01We completed our garden visit with a cup of hot tea and a piece of traditional snack.

13After the garden visit, we headed back to the main shrine for another quick look.

dsc_1507At one end of the shrine there was a Ikebana (生け花) or Japanese flower arrangement exhibition.

15On a side door of the shrine, there was a sign indicating the autumn colour was at its peak.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe exited the main hall to check out the other buildings in the shrine compound of Kitano Tenmangu.

18We walked by the temizuya, or water pavilion when we exited Kitano Tenmangu.

19Before leaving, we walked by the festival stalls and had an order of octopus balls.

20The banners of Kyoto Nippon Festival was hung on the torii gate of Kitano Tenmangu.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan