ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Shintoism

DAY 3 (1/6): TOSHOGU SHRINE (東照宮), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

140km north of Tokyo, Nikko (日光) is one of the most popular excursion destination out of the Japanese capital.  Dotted with onsen villages, ancient cedar forests, scenic waterfalls, turquoise lakes and lush green mountains, the magnificent piece of landscape is also the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the founding shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate from 1600 until Meiji Restoration in 1868.  The Shinto mausoleums of Tokugawa Iayasu and his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光) in Nikko are part of  “Shrines and Temples of Nikkō” inscribed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1999.  These historical sites draw huge crowds of visitors daily to the otherwise sleepy hilltown of Nikko.

There were so much to do and see in Nikko but we could only do a very long day trip this time.  We booked the earliest direct train, Tobu Railway’s Revaty Limited Express leaving Tokyo’s Asakusa Station at 06:30, and the last return train leaving Nikko at 19:18, leaving us about 11 hours in Nikko.  We also got the Nikko All Area Pass,  which covered our local bus fares in the Nikko and Chuzenji Lake area and discount on the Tobu train tickets.  We planned to check out the shrines and temples in the morning, and then visit the scenic Chuzenji Lake (中禅寺湖) and Kegon no taki (華厳の滝, Kegon Waterfall) in the afternoon.  As soon as the Revaty train pulled into Nikko Station at around 08:20, we were excited to see the beautiful weather.

01Our journey to Nikko began from Tobu Asakusa Station (浅草駅), a monumental terminal building constructed in 1931.

02In order to take the 6:30 Revaty Limited Express, we had no choice but to get up early and left Shibuya at about 5:30.

03The train arrived in Nikko at around 08:20.  We hopped onto a Tobu bus in front of Nikko Station for the nearby temple and shrine area.  Attempting to avoid the crowds later in the day, we decided to first visit Toshogu Shrine (東照宮), the single most popular attraction in Nikko.

04Toshogu Shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years until Meiji Restoration in 1867.  Because of its historical significance, the shrine is highly popular among local Japanese.  After a short walk along the procession route, we entered through Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate), a beautiful timber gateway erected by the powerful feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa, into the shrine complex.

05Despite our early arrival, the Toshogu Shrine was already full of student groups and tourists.  We passed by a group of students below the Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) as we entered the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the central complex through Omotemon Gate (Front Gate) or Nio Gate that is guarded by a pair of Nio (仁王) guardians.

07Once entered the forecourt, we could already appreciate the meticulous relief carvings and vivid architecture features on the Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses).  Toshogu presents quite a contrast compared with most other Shinto shrines that are usually minimalist in design and natural in colour tones.

09At the forecourt, the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, houses a real horse.  This comes from the tradition made by early emperors who would donate to the Kibune Shrine in Kyoto either a white horse to stop the rain in a rainy year, or a black horse to welcome the rain in a dry year.

08The front facade of the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, featues the Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys) on eight frieze panels depicting ordinary lives of people.  The most famous panel is undoubtedly the adorable “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond a large tori and a flight of steps is the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門), the gate of setting sunlight.

11With 500 beautiful wooden carvings, the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門) is considered by many the most impressive gate in Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe impressive Yomeimon Gate represents the Main Gate of the Imperial Court in the entire complex.

13As far as the legend goes, Yomeimon Gate is also called the “Gate of the Setting Sun” because visitor can gaze upon it all day without getting tired.

14Impressive decorations at the gate includes a golden lion housed in a niche.

15And a lot more that depict anecdotes, legends, wise people, sages, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother famous feature at Toshogu is Nemurineko, the tiny carving of the sleeping cat on the beam of a hallway.  A work by master carver Hidari Jingorou, the napping cat under the warm sun is a depiction “Nikko”, which literally means “sunlight”.  It marks the entry point of the path that ultimately leads to the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) on the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking the earliest direct train from Tokyo and came to Toshogu immediately upon arrival, we thought we could enjoy a bit of peaceful time at the highly popular shrine before the tourist groups came.  That totally didn’t happen as the shrine was already full of student groups when we arrived.  Walking up to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) was not a peaceful journey at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few minutes of short walk led us to the hill platform of the mausoleum.  Compared to the shrine buildings downhill, the mausoleum carries a more harmonic relationship with the natural surroundings.

19The bronze urn on the hill contains the remains of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the most powerful shogun of Japan before the modern era.

22The calligraphic sign Tōshō Dai-Gongen (東照大権現) near the mausoleum is attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇) from the 17th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe curved archway of Karamon Gate (唐門) symbolizes the authority of the Gohonsha Main Shrine Hall behind.  Despite the renovation scaffolding, we were able to enter the hall as a group to have a peek of the space where events and festivals would be held annually.

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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


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 4 (3/6): KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara.  The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods.  First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns.  As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared.  Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha.  Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.

01Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.

02Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods.  They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.

04We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex.  The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.

05Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.

06From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.

07Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.

08.JPGMany lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine.  Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence.  Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.

09After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).

10Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉).  The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.

11Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).

12Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine.  Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.

14Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.

15Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.

16The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.

17There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha.  How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.

18Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.

19After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine).  Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.

21Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.

22There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited several of the auxiliary shrines.  The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.

24It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry.  Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.

25Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.

***

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


DAY 1 (3/6): NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

Some bloggers mention Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) is their favorite temple in Kyoto.  It is not a small feat for any Kyoto temple to become someone’s favorite given the city has over 1600 temples.  We had high expectations for Ninnaji before the trip and was delighted to check out this head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingong Sect of Buddhism on our first day.  Following street signage, it was an easy 15-minute walk from Ryoanji to Ninnaji.  The air was cool and refreshing in the northwestern foothills of Kyoto.  The occasional vivid autumn leaves along the way made our walk even more pleasant.  Founded in AD 888 by Emperor Uda, Ninnaji Temple maintained its close connection with the imperial family until Meji Restoration in the 19th century.  For a thousand years the temple’s abbot had always been served by someone in the imperial family .  Today most surviving buildings date back to the 17th century.

Ninnaji Temple is consisted of two main parts: Garan (伽藍) and Goren (御殿).  The monumental main gate Nio-mon Gate (二王門) is one of the three famous gates in Kyoto, representing the magnificent timber skills and sense of beauty of ancient craftsmen.  We started our visit at the Goren (御殿) just behind the ticket office.  After taking off our shoes, we entered the Goren through a zigzag covered walkway, which ended at a peaceful dry zen garden known as the Dantei (南庭), or the South Garden.  The pebbles and sand were arranged in rows across a large area, with the beautiful Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and the Nio-mon Gate as prominent visual focuses in the background.  The tranquil atmosphere of Dantei prompted us to stay for a short while to enjoy the pleasant moment.  Following the covered verandas, we walked around Dantei to admire the traditional wall paintings inside prayer rooms along the way.  The paintings on the golden walls in the Shinden (宸殿), the main hall, revealed an imperial touch in the design as if the interior of an imperial palace.  After another turn we reached a completely different garden, the Hokutei (北庭), the North Garden.  The main focus of Hokutei was a serene reflecting pool, reflecting the autumn foliage and the Five-Storey Pagoda in the Garan further in the background.  Just a few minutes before we were admiring the abstract dry landscape of Dantei, where sand and pebbles metaphorize the sea, rocks as islands and trees as forests.  A few minutes later we had entered a lush world of greenery and water in the Hokutei.

After the Goren, we walked over to Chu-mon Gate (中門) into the much larger Garan (伽藍).  The entire Goren area was like a park, with several buildings scattered over in the area.  We first headed over to the Gojunoto (五重塔), or the Five-storey Pagoda, an elegant tower visible from many places in Ninnaji.  Behind the pagoda, we arrived at  Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神), a peaceful Shinto shrine under the shade of trees.  After clapping, praying and bowing in front of the shrine, we continued to wander around Garan.  Next came Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵), a squarish timber building used to store the Buddhist scriptures.  Back to the central area, we reached the largest building in Garan, the Kondo (金堂), or the Golden Hall, and the orange painted Syoro (鐘楼).  None of these buildings were open, but it was the poetic atmosphere of these historical buildings in the natural setting that we enjoyed the most.  Before leaving, we had a quick visit of the Miedo (御影堂), a Buddhist hall dedicated to Kukai (弘法大師) – the famous 8th century Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism in Xian of China and founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan.  After a thorough visit of Goren and Garan, we walked through the monumental  Nio-mon Gate once again, leaving Ninnaji slightly after 3pm.  Because of the time of year the sun was already quite low, and it felt like late afternoon.  We decided to quickly take the bus a few stops northwards to probably the most popular attraction in Kyoto, the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), or the Golden Pavilion.  

01It was a pleasant 15-minute walk from Ryoanji Temple to Ninnaji Temple.

04We walked past beautiful autumn maples along the way.

02We finally reached the monumental Nio-mon Gate, the main gate of Ninnaji Temple.

03The timber structure of the Nio-mon Gate is a beautiful piece of architecture.

05After getting the admission tickets, we entered the Goren (御殿) via a stone path flanked by the dry landscape of pebble and sand.

06We took off our shoes and entered a zigzag covered walkway to enter the main buildings of Goren (御殿).

08The Dantei (南庭), South Garden, of Goren (御殿) is a peaceful dry landscape of pebbles and sand, with the Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and Nio-mon Gate (二王門) as background.

10We followed the covered verandas to circle around the buildings of Goren (御殿).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dry landscape of Dantei (南庭) could be appreciated at different angles along the way.

11An intimate pavilion just outside the timber veranda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden interiors of the Shinden (宸殿) reveals a sense of imperial aesthetics.

13The “wet” landscape of Hokutei (北庭) provided a stark contrast from the dry landscape of the Dantei (南庭).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was already getting low when we wandered around Ninnaji Temple.

14The Chu-mon Gate (中門) led us into the much larger Garan (伽藍) area.

15The old statue of a Buddhist Guardian at one side of the Chu-mon Gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Gojunoto (五重塔) in the Garan (伽藍) as seen from below.

17bUnder the tree shades, the Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神) looked peaceful.

16The squarish Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵) was a decent one-storey timber building with a big roof.

dsc_1233The Kondo (金堂), or the main hall in Garan in the park setting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe maple colour near the Kondo (金堂) were its peak.

20The orange Bell Tower adjacent to the Kondo.

19Autumn foliage in front of the Bell Tower.

dsc_1266The Miedo (御影堂) was the last building we visited in Ninnaji Temple.

18Before leaving Ninnaji, we passed by the maple leaves under the roof of the Kondo one last time.

***

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


OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan

In Kyoto, we saw skies of blue and clouds of white, and foliage of crimson as if sea of dancing flames.  The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights, the crystal reflections in the water and the festive scent in the air of peaceful valleys and the thousand-year capital.  After our five-day visit, we think to ourselves what a wonderful place Kyoto truly is.  The moment we left the ancient capital we were already dreaming of our return.
In early December, we decided to take a 5-day escape from our hustle and bustle life in Hong Kong.  We picked Japan’s Kyoto, the city where we purposely avoided during our previous Kansai visit because back then we couldn’t find adequate time for a decent introduction to this crown jewel of Japan.  This time around at the twilight of autumn, we destined to indulge ourselves for a feast of the ancient capital, at which 5-days of fantastic moments inspired us once again to feel the joy and beauty of traveling.  In the next while we will share with you our delightful Kyoto and Nara experience.

kyoto-2016_01Fantastic 5 Days: Getting up early each morning, 5 autumn days with pleasant weather allowed us to visit a number of temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara, plus incredible cafes, cozy restaurants, interesting design shops, living market, idyllic old neighborhoods, and much more.

dsc_2643Autumn Foliage: Nature’s most vivid instant beyond the eaves of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

dsc_3642Festivity: Celebrations of the season with illuminations, music and food.

dsc_1701-1Colours of the Night: Luminosity and hues of Kyoto’s autumn night.

dsc_2217Zen Gardens: Moments of redemption from the bustling noises of daily life.

dsc_3324Buddhist Architecture: Ancient timber structures revealing a millennium of architectural heritage and cultural preservation.

dsc_1296Eternal Beauty: Enthralled by the eternal beauty of the thousand-year ancient capital.

dsc_2404Tranquil Morning Strolls: Placid old neighborhoods at the first light of the day.

img_9251Sincere Cuisine: Unpretentious regional sake and cuisines with fresh local ingredients.

dsc_2892Contemporary Design: Architecture, industrial designs and handcrafts that celebrate the spirit of the present.

dsc_4022Mystical World of Spirits and Nature: Entering the spiritual woods and legendary mountains of Shintoism.

***

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