Kyoto, Gion, Geisha anecdotes

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I’m including Kyoto, Gion, Geisha and other “forgotten” bits and pieces in this blog post.  It is going to be a jumble of all the ad hoc things I haven’t included in my previous posts; the.  I could have incorporated some/all of these the topics into my previous posts, but that would have made them even longer!  In between all of this, I had to move hotels again.  Luckily, Kyoto Inn Gion has a sister hotel only a few hundred meters way, aptly named Kyoto Inn Gion the Second.  I underestimated how popular Kyoto is, with Kyoto Inn Gion fully booked hence the forced moved.  My new location was even better than the first (second in Kyoto), and there was nothing wrong with the first.  I combined my last two full days in Kyoto into one post, Kyoto – Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, take a look if you like.

I must give a shout out to the hotel staff at both Kyoto Inn Goins.  Moving can be a chore, as I was moving to their sister hotel, I didn’t need to do any paperwork at all.  Seems trivial, but it’s the little things that count.  Adding to their efficiency they were always super friendly, and helpful especially when I asked for help or clarification with my enunciation.  To top it off the sister hotel’s room was much bigger, the biggest I had had in Japan.  A big room is never high on my list of priorities still, a little more space is always welcomed.

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My morning coffee in an artisan cup and saucer – Kyoto Inn Gion the Second.

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My room at Kyoto Inn Gion the Second – the biggest room I had in Japan, great service too – Gion, Kyoto

My favourite parts of the city

Kyoto is a cool city with something, or maybe that’s just me…I doubt it though.  The outer areas are packed full of shrines and temples, especially at the bases of the mountains, no matter which direction.   Thinking about it, no matter where you are in Kyoto you are never far from a temple, shrine or historical site.  I cannot tell you how many places I walked past that in the very least I would have loved to poke my head into.  In the city centre Gion, Shinkyogoku-dori Street and Pontocho-dori were by far my favourite areas.

Gion – Crossing the Kamo River you could be mistaken for thinking you’re in a different city. Filled with traditional shops, the heart of Gion still glimmers with the distant past.  Gion offers up its best when you get of the main roads and into the narrow backstreets.  If you took away the paved roads, Gion is like taking a step back in time.  Wooden houses with bamboo fronts, I’m so glad I moved hotels, and lucky to have stayed in Gion for most of my time in Kyoto.

Shinkyogoku-dori – Not that shopping is my thing, but it’s a nice alternative to walking through the many malls in Kyoto. I’d say it’s a mix of market stalls with a few high street shops too, worth a visit or just a walk through.

Pontocho-dori – Running parallel to Kamo River on the West side only a block from the river, this is the second-best place to spot Geisha/Geiko/Maiko. It’s a narrow road, more like an alleyway, packed with quaintness and authenticity.  From curio shops to high-end traditional restaurants, it’s a great place to amble about at night.

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The main road that runs through the heart of historical Gion – Kyoto

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Pontocho-dori, the second-best place to spot Geisha/Geiko/Maiko (Yes I have used this picture before) – Kyoto

Geisha, actually Geiko

First things first, the differences between Geisha, Geiko and Maiko:

Geisha and Geiko:

  • They are the same thing. A Geiko is a Geisha from Kyoto, and a Geisha comes from Tokyo
  • Their hair is elaborately made up, with little and very understated accessories
  • Kimonos have less patterns, if there are patterns, they will be on the bottom half of the kimono
  • Their leggings are often pink or a light colour with no patterns
  • They were flatter sandals
  • The above are the easiest to remember and spot quickly. There are quite a few other visual differences, but I won’t get into all of them

Maiko:

  • They are apprentice Geiko/Geisha
  • Their hair isn’t as elaborately made up compared to a Geisha/Geiko, however they do have more (and larger) decorative and colourful hair accessories. Many of them have what looks like a small wind chime on their right-side of their head
  • Kimonos have more colours and patterns throughout (top to bottom)
  • Their leggings are red and often have a white floral pattern
  • Junior Maiko’s top lip does not have lipstick and is instead white
  • Their sandals are thicker like platforms

Most of the time people, including myself, mistake Maikos for Geisha/Geiko.  There I was snapping away at Maikos thinking they were Geikos.  Whether it is true or not I don’t know, but Geishas are not often seen walking to work so naturally they are spotted less.  During my search to capture them I only saw seven of them.  One two occasions, a Geisha (not Maiko) was getting into a taxi.  She was too far away, with it happening so suddenly I didn’t get the chance to take a picture.  Another two occasions I say Maikos at a distance, then disappearing into buildings, again I was too slow.

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Finally saw a Maiko coming from a distance, but couldn’t get my camera settings sorted before she whizzed past! – Gion, Kyoto

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…like I said, this Maiko whizzed past! – Gion, Kyoto

Two things I observed when out looking for Geishas.  Firstly, they walk silently.  You would think with all that clothing and those shoes they would make a noise, not at all, they are as stealthy!  Secondly, they walk bloody fast!  Living in London I learnt to walk fast, but the Maikos and Geikos walk very fast.  Considering how restrictive their clothing looks, and none that I saw were particularly tall, wow they move like the wind!  Even as they speed through the street you cannot escape how elegantly they do so.

There is a decorum to taking Geisha’s/Maiko’s pictures.  Yes, you can do so when they are out in public.  Don’t block their path in order to get a frontal picture.  Never try to stop them to ask for a picture nor talk to them i.e. try to distract them.  It may be a novelty to tourists, nonetheless they are on their way to work so stopping them would be rude and inconsiderate.  In the end I managed to capture two Maikos (ok pictures) and one Geiko one the move.  I call the latter an action shot a.k.a. not a very good photo that is out of focus 😊

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Me acting like the paparazzi, snapping a passing Maiko – Gion, Kyoto

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My “action hot” of a Geiko/Geisha. The only Geiko/Geisha I was able to capture – Gion, Kyoto

Gion Corner Yasaka Hall

It’s the Kyoto Traditional Musical Foundation with the show broken into seven segments.  Each different, with a separate unrelated topic.  Cost is ¥3150 per adult, but they do have group discounts.  I tried getting in twice, on the first occasion the queue was so long I decided not to go.  A tip from the hotel staff was to get there at least 1 hour before the show starts; they have a limited number of seats meaning it’s first come first served.  The whole show only takes 50-60 minutes, something I would recommend going to see if it fits your budget.

Chado / Tea Ceremony – Watching any skilful craftsperson is interesting, and that’s exactly what the tea ceremony is all about.  Tea tasting was brought to Japan by Zen Buddhist priests during the Heian Period (12th Century).  A sombre ceremony yet intriguing, and embodiment of Japanese culture; striving for perfection, purpose and beauty even in the most mundane tasks of life.

Koto / Japanese Harp – A unique sound that reverberates the soundtrack of ancient Japan and China.  An eerie soulful resonance that penetrates the heart and mind.  It echoes and yearns for the past and found the sound to be solitudinous.

Kado / Flower Arrangement – Interesting, with the use of different and beautiful flowers.  However, this was my least favourite part of the show

Gagaku / Court Music – More of a theatrical performance with traditional music, Gagaku means “elegant music”, but includes dancing and singing.  Originating in China circa. 7th century it made its way to Japan in the 8th Century, slowly fading out of popularity in China.  Today it can be classified as authentically Japanese.

Kyogen / Ancient Comic Play – It’s amazing how comedy transcends language and culture.  Kyogen is akin to slapstick, so not knowing the language really makes no difference at all.  Alcohol often works well in these situations, and here sake plays a key role.  These sorts of plays have been popular since the 16th century

Kyomai / Kyoto Style Dance – Performed by a junior Maiko and Maiko, I enjoyed this part of the show the most.  Maybe not for the reason would think…finally get close to a Maiko without them zooming past me with their quick little steps 😊.  They perform a traditional dance using slow, graceful and elegant movements done with precision and purpose.  The performance was moving and emotional, to me it had a tinge of melancholy.  I’d like to see more Japanese traditional dances, very interesting.  I’ll leave it at that.

Bunraku (Puppet Play) – Watching it made me reminisce of the puppet shows I saw in Vietnam (Hanoi and Hoi An), without the water.  I suppose it is the equivalent of watching a short Shakespeare play.  With an underlying story parallel to true accounts hundreds of years ago.  Like Romeo and Juliet, two star crossed lovers have a wedge forced between them by a protagonist.  In the end they are reunited to kindle a love which is shunned by society.

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An art instillation by Yayoi Kusama outside Yasaka Hall Gion Corner (by the theatre) – Gion, Kyoto

Restaurants and food displays

If you like steak then Japan is the place for you, especially Kobe and Kyoto.  It’s not just the top-end restaurants that get booked up, they all do!  There is a restaurant to match everyone’s purse strings, I opted for the middle ground.  With a plethora of restaurants to choose from, I sought the advice from the hotel staff at reception.  Always happy to help, they suggested a restaurant called 1596, called and book a table for me.  I’m pretty sure 1596 is not the Japanese name for the restaurant.  For some or other reason I struggled to find the address when writing this, however this link will take you to it (address for 1596).  It goes without saying, the menu for steak is quite extensive and the results was a meaty meal I had been craving!  Easily in the top 10 best steaks I have ever had, the glass of red wine (two) went down just as well too.

At first, I thought the waiters were not very good.  I kept looking up to grab their attention, except they seemed to be ignoring me.  Only after watching the people next to me did I have my eureka moment, silly me!  Waiters here leave customers alone; my guess is they see it as intrusive.  If you want help/service, you call them.  I doubt whistling or clicking your fingers would be accepted, but a respectful call out is all they need.  Once I adapted the service couldn’t have been any better – though at first, I was a little embarrassed.  Personally, I much prefer the Japanese style.  You get to eat in peace, without someone constantly coming over to ask you how the meal is…invariably when your mouth is full of food.

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1596 steak restaurant in Gion – Kyoto

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Part of the steak menu at the restaurant 1596 in Gion – Kyoto

Again, another recommendation of my hotel, a soup and noodle restaurant called Musoshin; around the corner from Kenninji Temple.  Considerably cheaper than the steak restaurant, yet just as tasty and a different experience too.  As a rookie to Japan I didn’t know what to do when I arrived.  It’s a very small restaurant, more like a café in size; with only two employees, including the chef.  In order to make a convoluted story succinct I’ll summarise.  Before taking a seat there is a ticket vending machine at the entrance; you select what you want, including drinks, pay and it prints out your order and receipt.  You give this to one of the employees when you sit down, and they get one with preparing your food.  If you want something else, you go back to the ticket machine and repeat the process; you cannot order &/or pay to anyone.

To make things more interesting, the ticket machine is entirely in Japanese, except for rice.  The confused look on my face caught the attention of the non-chef, thankfully he helped me order.  There were a few pictures of dishes that looked interesting, I pointed to which one and he in turn showed me which buttons to press.  For the price, and I honestly cannot remember how much it cost, it was a full heart delicious meal (and beer) and cheap!

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My dinner at the restaurant Musoshin in Gion, ordered from the vendor waiter machine 🙂 – Gion, Kyoto

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The “vendor waiter” at Musoshin – Gion, Kyoto

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Might not seem like much, but Musoshin is a great little restaurant with excellent prices – Gion, Kyoto

I ate at a few other places, a suchi restaurant which was fantastic, just cannot remember the name.  Another restaurant was just like eating at a family member’s house, not far from the hotel too – heap as chips!  Although Kyoto (Japan as a whole) is expensive there are many cheap ways to eat out without breaking the bank.  Looking back, I can’t recall every having a bad experience with the restaurants or food.  Ah yes, almost forgot!  Many restaurants have window displays of their food.  Only thing is, the displays are plastic moulds!  Most of them look extremely realistic, they can really help know what food is sold without needing to read Japanese.

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Plastic food displays in the windows of some of the restaurants in Kyoto

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I think this was a green tea matcha latte (may have been a keto). I had mine with no sugar, tasted excellent – Kyoto

Black Kites

Kyoto surprised me in many ways. For a city of such size and population you are never far from nature.  Whether it’s the beautiful gardens at shrines and temple to the surrounding mountains.  Even inside the city there are canals full of fish and ducks (click on the link and scroll down to the second last picture).  The Kamo River cuts through Kyoto from North to South, with many bridges frequented by tourists and locals just taking in the sites.  One thing you are almost guaranteed to see every time are Black Kites.  I tried my best to get some clear pictures, a rather challenging task with a moving target in the sky…if only they would keep still for a second or two! 😊

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One of the many Black Kites flying over the Kamo River right in the city centre. They seem to hang around near the bridges – Kyoto

Vending Machines

Kyoto and Tokyo are full of vending machines one the pavements/sidewalks.  Tokyo surprised me by the sheer number of them, I reconciled this with the fact of it being such vast and populated city.  Seems vending machines are the norm, with Kyoto no different.  In Gion they seem to stick out like a sore thumb.  Gion for most part is very traditional, from restaurants to architecture. It even has a different vibe to the West side of Kamo River.  Anyway, I just found it interesting at the number of vending machines, most of which sell drinks…of any and every kind you can think of.  Why so many vending machines, I don’t know?  It’s not like there aren’t any shops around, and with so many machines it’s unlikely you’ll die of dehydration from one road to the next.

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Random I know! There are so many vending machines throughout Tokyo and Kyoto, these were in Gion – Japan

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Yup, another vending machine in a random place, they are everywhere. This was over the road from the Kyoto Inn Gion the Second – Kyoto

Haircut

Another quick shout out and thanks to Koichi Ikemoto, the owner of Yoshida Barber shop Kewpie.  Around 100m from my hotel at 434 Minamisaikaishichō, Higashiyama-ku, 東山区 Kyōto-fu.  A real Japanese barber with a Rock ’n Roll/Rockabilly styling.  Koichi was super cool, his English considerably better than my Japanese, which is near nonexistent.  Even so, he cracked up a conversation and the haircut results were excellent, even if I say so myself.  No, I didn’t take a photo, pity.  You may have guessed I’m not one for selfies, a shame not to have shown off Koishi’s stylish work.  Thanks Koishi!

Toilets

I imagine it’s not to often to have a section in a blog about toilets. Come to think of it if I include all my experiences, I could easily write a whole blog post on toilets.  Don’t worry, this will not be a crass paragraph.  I’ve included the photo below, which was the simplest toilet device.  From heated toilet seats, different types of sprays and strengths, they do almost everything.  I even had one that blows air (various cool to warm settings) to dry you off instead of using toilet paper.  At my first hotel in Tokyo, the toilet must have had close to 10 buttons!  That, along with Wi-Fi and power to plug your phone into…why leave the bathroom at all! 😊 Ps. at all my hotels in Japan the bathrooms mirrors were heated so they don’t steam up, love that!

Kyoto Inn Gion

My on-suite at Kyoto Inn Gion the Second. Small, compact but with everything and more than you need. Spotless too! – Gion, Kyoto

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Love the toilet controls in Japan, this one was the least sophisticated – Kyoto, Japan

Transport

Arriving in a new country or city can have its challenges, especially if the local language is different to your own.  What can exacerbate the anxiety, is if the written language has no resemblance to your own.  Getting around Japan was a doddle, I’d go so far as to say pleasurable.  Google Maps is a godsend, but if your mobile/cell phone doesn’t work overseas it doesn’t matter – mine was.  My hotel was always willing to help &/or give guidance and suggestions.  The JR Pass was definitely cost effective for me.  Had I not bought one my travel would have been close to double what I paid!

The customer service and help from staff at the Metro’s were always very helpful, the language was never much of a problem.  And, within the major/large towns/cities the signage is in Japanese and English.  I think I many have mentioned (a few times 😊), that the busses, trains and Metro’s are spotless – the cleanest public transport I have ever used.  On one occasion I got onto a bus on the wrong side of the road, really no harm done, losing 30 minutes of my day…hardly the stuff to write about.

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Public transport is super efficient and spotless! – Kyoto

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The Shinkansen (bullet train), with plenty of leg space even with my lying at an angle. Grrrrr don’t know where the rest of my photos of the Shinkansen are – Japan

Manga Museum and Samurai Museum

For me there were only two disappointments in Kyoto, firstly the Manga Museum and secondly the Samurai Museum.

  • Manga Museum – This is in all probability because of my expectations instilled by Western “Manga”. Manga is huge in Japan, but “my style” of Manga is more the warrior type.  At the museum it covers all the spectrums of Manga, which I’m not as au fait with.  If Manga is your cup of tea, don’t let my opinion deter you
  • Samurai Museum – It’s not a museum per se. I’d say it’s more like a tourist attraction, where you can dress up in samurai clothing and get your photo taken.  I was very keen to find out more about the samurai, finding it odd there was little to nothing to accommodate it – except for the “museum”.

That’s the end of my mix-match Kyoto blog post.  I know the photos are not cool or unique, but they hold fond memories for me.  Sure, seeing the popular sites is great fun, yet it’s all the little moments that are special and leave a lasting memory. Kyoto was awesome, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, just wished I had seen more.  I learnt loads about Japan, the Japanese people, their history and religion, but only scratched the surface and would love to learn more.

Additional random pictures from Kyoto

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Shijo-dori (street) – Kyoto

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Back streets of Gion a little deserted during the rain (I was out looking for Geisha/Geiko – Kyoto

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The narrow back streets of Gion – Kyoto

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One of the narrow alleyways in Gion. These are one of the best places to experience Gion – Kyoto

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Entrance to a house in the historical quarter of Gion – Kyoto

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One of the narrow streets off the main road in the historical quarter of Gion – Kyoto

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Historical quarter of Gion – Kyoto

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In the historical quarter of Gion, this type of shopfront is common – Gion, Kyoto

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Rickshaw rides are common in Gion and any of the main tourist attractions – Kyoto

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A typical side street in Kyoto

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Walking back from 1596, stomach full after a great meal! Don’t know why I like this photo, just do – Gion, Kyoto

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Some random photo of a shop in Gion – Kyoto

Kyoto – Byodo-in, Uji, Kiyomizu-dera

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Kyoto day 3, Byodo-in, Uji and Kiyomizu-dera were my main sites for the day.  Not that much for a full day, but most of the morning was taken up by changing accommodation.  I checked out of my hotel and into my new one in the centre of Gion, as early as possible.  My first hotel was fully booked so extending was not an option, forcing the decision.  If possible, I prefer not to move within the same location/city.  Just as in Tokyo and others (Aswan) when I have, it has been for the better – Gion is an excellent location in Kyoto.

Kyoto Inn Gion is less than 100m from Maruyama Park, my room came with all that I had become accustomed to from a Japanese hotel room and my biggest room yet (not big for European standards).  It reminded me of a little boutique hotel, which made me feel at home compared to my previous larger establishment.  As always, the staff were super friendly and courteous – my booking was for 3 night.  Enough about the hotel for now, I’ll refer back to them every now and ten over the coming days.

Uji

Getting to Uji and Byodo-in Temple from Kyoto (from my hotel), took about 45 minutes in total.  Using my JR Pass, I took the Keihan Main Line (Red) from Gion-Shijo Station, changing at Tofukuji Station onto the Nara Line (brown) getting off at Uji.  Again, even with the language barrier working out the metro was easy.  When I wasn’t sure, it was easy finding someone working at the station who could help in English.  As I’ve already mentioned many times, the staff at the hotels where always more than willing to help.

Even with my time constraints for the day, I could have planned a little better giving me more time in Uji.  There is a lot more to Uji than the Uji River (also called Yodo River and Seta River) and Byodo-in Temple.  Had I planned better (wasted less time swapping hotels), I could easily have spent the whole day there.  That may have come with an opportunity cost, in retrospect I don’t mind having missed some of Uji’s other sites.  More reasons to go back to Japan! 😊

Uji

Jusanju sekito stone pagoda on Tachibanajima Island on the Uji River. This 13 tiered pagoda at 15m high, is apparently the highest stone pagoda in Japan (don’t know if that’s true).

Now, the station is only a few hundred metres from the river.  My hasty planning the night before meant I missed a raft of monuments on the bank of the river, including on Tachibanajima Island.  My assumption was that everyone was only there to visit Byodo-in Temple, and taking in the site of the river.  Nope, I was wrong.  Not to get into all that I missed, however next time I’d like to see Hashi-dera Hojo-in Temple, Kosho-ji Temple and Eshin-in Temple.  With Mimurotoji Temple Garden on the top of that list.  Known for its gardens with flowers all year round.

Byodo-in Temple

Stemming from the Heian Period, it serves as both a temple of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land – Nishi Hongan-ji) and Tendai-shū sects of Buddahism.  To understand Byodo-in Temple’s significance to the Japanese you need look no further than some of its money.  The temple is imprinted on the ¥10 cent coin, and a phoenix on the ¥10 000 note.  I’ll explain about the association with the phoenix shortly.  Not to mention, Byodo-in Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and that it’s been on postage stamps many times too.

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Background

Byodo-in started off as a rural villa for the high-ranking politician Minamoto no Shigenobu.  Fujiwara no Michinaga, another high-ranking politician and powerful member of the Fujiwara clan, bought the villa after Minamoto no Shigenobu’s death.  Fujiwara no Michinaga’s son, Fujiwara no Yorimichi, converted the villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052.  The complex used to consist of other buildings, which burnt down in 1336, the only original building is Phoenix Hall.

Officially named Amida Hall (Amida-dō) after the celestial Buddha Amida (Amitābha/Amitāyus), around the 17th Century it became more commonly known as Phoenix Hall (Hōō-dō).  This change of name was organic not deliberate.  A combination of the ceiling phoenix painting in the main hall, and the metaphorical shape of the temple resembling a bird/phoenix.  Ps. “hōō” is the Chinese phoenix.

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Jodo-in Temple (approx. 17th century), part of Byodo-in Temple complex – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Picture taken from the back of Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Back to my visit

It’s one of the smaller temple complexes I’ve been to, and in perfect condition owing to restoration work in 2014.  Simply put, Byodo-in Temple is a beautifully executed architectural metaphor.  Two symmetric corridors span out on either side from the body of the central hall.  Like a phoenix stretching out its wings to the fullest.  Behind the body its tail fans out long and low.  Three colours dominate the temple, a mixture of terracotta-vermilion for fire, white and grey for the plumage.  The terracotta-vermilion conjuring up flames surrounding the phoenix against its sparse white feathers.  The flames from the underbelly topped by grey tiles with gold crests.

Byodo-in Temple represents the antithesis of harmony through symmetry. Such a contrast, a fiery bird perched on an island in the middle of a pond.  A slight breeze glancing off the water breaking the temple’s reflection into a mirage.  With the gardens surrounding the temple, Byodo-in represents the four elements through architecture – earth, wind, water and fire.

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Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

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Wisteria blooms hanging like grapes, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

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Hanging wisteria looks almost like upside-down lavender, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Owing to my self-imposed schedule for the day I didn’t venture into Phoenix Hall.  They only allow about 30 people every hour and I had just missed my chance.  I thought about waiting (plus paying the additional ¥300), but its just not possible to do and see everything.  In retrospect, I wish I had waited another hour.  For the rest of my visit I wondered around the gardens.  Flourishing greens of all shades and shapes accessorised with scattered reds, dashes of white and canopies of amethyst flowers.

I tried different photo styles with little success.  With my limited photography skills it does help when the subject/s are so perfect.  If I had to visit again (and I wouldn’t hesitate) I’d prefer going either ever very early or late.  The phoenix taking flight into the sky with fiery showers of red and orange melting into the rising or setting sun.  As with so many of these temples, visiting when there is nobody around must be a moving experience.

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Not sure which building this is, beautiful garden though, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Yes, more wisteria : ) Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

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Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Back to Kyoto

Next, I had to go back to Kyoto to get to Kiyomizu-dera.  I could have caught a bus from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-dera or nearby, instead deciding to walk.  Glad I did.  Taking the route less travelled is my moto (most times).   When possible I try take routes used by locals, or even detours to see where people live.  Any opportunity I get to get away from “touristy” norns I try to take.  It normally gives me the chance to see normal living of local residences.  Most tourist sites throughout the world are to some extent tainted.  The lesser visited/seen areas are more authentic…unfortunately these seem to be becoming fewer and fewer.

Otani Hombyo Tomb and Otani Cemetery

Accidentally I took a detour heading to Kiyomizu-dera.  I thought I must have taken a wrong turn because I found myself heading up a long stairwell through a large cemetery.  Much later to find out it was Otani Cemetery.  Going arse about face, I walked through the cemetery before arriving at Otani Hombyo Tomb.  In fact, the only reason I found the entrance of the tomb, was because I was trying to get out of the cemetery!  Ending up at the entrance by chance!

Anway, Otani Hombyo (also known as Nishi Otanji) is the tomb of Shinran Shonin, ultimately the founder of Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu).  I had no idea what I had stumbled upon because I was a tad lost!  Had I known I would have spent more time there instead of just pocking my head in to nose about.  Adjacent to Otani Cemetery is the biggest in Kyoto.  Surrounded by the forest on Mt Otowa, with thousands of mini obelisks following the lay of the land like undulating waves of granite.

Otani Cemetery

Only a very small part of Otani Cemetery, which has about 15 000 burials – Kyoto

Otani Hombyo

Entrance to Otani Hombyo Tomb – Kyoto

Otani Hombyo

Otani Hombyo Tomb Shrine – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is perched on the side of Mt Otowa, and renowned for many reasons.  One being its spectacular views!  Its famous massive veranda offering panoramic views over lush forest and the city beyond.  Not during my visit though!  What a pity, I arrived towards the back-end of the afternoon, hoping to see the sun set.  Unfortunately, this was not possible…I say that very selfishly!  Kiyomizu-dera was under restoration when I visited.  The entire building, from top to bottom was cocooned in scaffolding and protective plastic, only the tiniest sliver of veranda was open.

Kiyomizu-dera

Niimon (main gate), its current incarnation dating to 1632, but originally built in 847 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Triple Tower in its bright vermilion – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Background and Interesting Facts:

  • Kiyomizu means “clear or pure water”, in reference to the waterfall and stream that runs behind and under the temple
  • It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Not a single nail was used in its construction
  • The original temple dates back to 778, with the current temple dating to 1633 at the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu (same person who finished Edo Castle
  • It used to be associated to the Hossō Buddhism sect, but severed its affiliation in 1965 to now be part of the Kitahossō sect.
  • If you jumped off its veranda (13m high) and survived, your wish would come true. 234 recorded people had jumped during the Edo period, around 35 died!  Now it is forbidden to jump off…health and safety gone mad! 😊
  • Jumping off the veranda coined the phrase “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu”, similar to the English expression “to take the plunge”

Neon bright vermilion structures bring the mountain to light since Kiyomizu-dera is under a blanked of grey.  Unlike most other temples I’d seen, here the terrain of Mt Otowa scatters the structures on different levels.  Each one on a pedestal terrace cut into the mountain, as if on display in a gallery.  The stark contrast of vermilion against a backdrop of green forest accentuates the colours like a flower in the desert.  Somehow the concrete steps feel at home as they blend into the stone retainer walls and foundations.

Kiyomizu-dera

Ximen Gate with the spire of the Triple Tower behind – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Inside the Kiyomizu-dera with its massive pillars – Kyoto

I have two disappointments about my visit to Kiyomizu-dera, the first I have already mentioned.  The second, I must have messed around with my camera settings by accident, because many of my photo’s came out terribly.  There were so many pictures that were out of focus, how I just don’t know!  Weeks later I went through them, I was so disappointed.  Oh well, photos aren’t the be all an end all.  My travelling is about learning and experiencing, though having nice pics as memories is also a nice thing to have ☹.

Compared to other temples and shrines, Kiyomizu-dera has by far the most colour, hmmm, maybe with the exception of Heian Shrine.  I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record, but the surroundings make the difference.  Getting to Kiyomizu-dera, you are surrounded by forest, houses, even if you take my route via Otani Cemetery, the scenery monotone most of the time.  Then, before you know it, you look up, your eyes are dazed with garish colour!  I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kan’an Tower built around 1500 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Ximen and Triple Tower – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Because of the restoration work being conducted some of the temple complex was closed, not just the main building.  Even so, there was enough there to keep me interested and perplexed.  Writing about all these Buddhist Shrines and temples has been a bit of a challenge.  Firstly, I know very little to nothing about Buddhism.  Secondly, I have almost no tangible knowledge of Japanese history prior to the 19th century.  This lack of knowledge both culturally and religiously has meant I’ve had to do so much research to for me just to understand the basics.  So, if anything is incorrect please let me, and if what I write seems to be all over the place please forgive me!

Kiyomizu-dera was my last visit of the day, so I’ll leave things there and include most of the photos afterwards.  One of the most challenging things I find it to whittle down my photos.  From the onset I’ve never wanted batnomad to be a picture gallery, but sometimes I find it very difficult not to include lots of photos.  It’s so easy to take 40+ pictures per site, then trying to limit it to 20-30 pictures per post if bloody difficult!  Considering I can go to multiple places on one day that could be 100+ pictures to choose from.  Of course, many pictures are not worth using, there are also many pictures I don’t include which only have meaning or relevance to me.

Anyway, I hope you liked the read, or at least the pictures 😊

Pps. On my way back to my hotel for dinner (I’ll write separately about some of the food etc.), I passed the Yasaka Pagoda and Shrine.  An imposing elaborate pagoda nuzzled between the houses in a maze of narrow streets.  Officially called Hokan-ji Temple, but locally called Yasaka-no-to/Yasaka Pagoda.  Dating from 592, as with so many buildings in Kyoto it has been destroyed by fire many times – the current building dates to 1440.

Kyoto

Hokan-ji Temple, locally called Yasaka-no-to/Yasaka Pagoda (46m high) – Kyoto

 

Phoenix Hall

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

The Ximen gate in front with the Triple Tower peaking out behind, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Kan’an Tower like a beacon in a sea of green (one of my badly focused pictures GRRRR) – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kyoto

A small window through the garden looking out onto Kyoto – Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera

The Triple Tower in the background, it was coincidental catching two Japanese tourists in traditional dress 🙂 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

At the main entrance landing, with the Ximen on the right and the Triple Tower behind – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

A lovely stone pagoda hidden in the garden, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Beautiful copper dragon drinking fountain. Also for washing your hands before entering the temple, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

I couldn’t find out the relevance of this dragon statue, still think it’s cool, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto