Temples in Kyoto

There are more temples in Kyoto than days on a Japan Railpass, but I did manage to see the Golden Palace, the Silver Palace, Ryoan-ji, and Kiyomizu Temple over the course of a couple days. I can see why people rhapsodize about them.

Kyoto temple

Kyoto temple

Ginkaku-ji (officially Jisho-ji) was built in the 15th century, and is probably nicknamed the Silver Palace as it came after construction of the gold-leafed Golden Palace. Possibly it was even going to be covered in silver foil, but that never happened, and it remains a painted wooden sculpture.

Ginkaku-ji

Ginkaku-ji

The Silver Palace, a wooden structure whose proper name is Temple of Shining Mercy

The Silver Palace, a wooden structure whose proper name is Temple of Shining Mercy

The approach to the temple was direct, but felt like a giant maze because of the huge hedges

The approach to the temple was direct, but felt like a giant maze because of the huge hedges

The grounds were extensive (I feel like a character in an Austen novel every time I say that, but it’s true). The gardens I visited in Japan were all meticulously laid out, and little arrows pointed the exact path you should follow, both to avoid congestion and to appreciate the gardens according to the aesthetic plan of the designers. The gardens at Ginkaku-ji were flowering beautifully, and the large raked rock garden (it is a Zen temple) was a perfect complement to the leafy trees.

Lovely gardens

Lovely gardens

Seriously lovely

Seriously lovely

Another view from the hill walk

Another view from the hill walk

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Palace, was super crowded–it’s one of the most popular destinations in the country, for domestic and foreign tourists alike. There’s a little spot set aside for photos of the gilded palace across the pond. Trying to elbow in for a photo in front of the fence was a bit of work. A Japanese teenager tried to take a photo with me–with me as the tourist attraction. I declined. Was that so different from taking a photo of the women in line with me at the kabuki theater? I like to think it was, since I chatted with the women in line before asking for a photo, but I’m not sure.

Golden Palace

Golden Palace

May was a great time to visit, with everything in bloom

May was a great time to visit, with everything in bloom

Finding space to get this shot was an exercise in patience

Finding space to get this shot was an exercise in patience

The palace a large house on stilts. It was originally the villa of a wealthy man; another man bought it later and then asked that it be turned into a Zen temple upon his death. So he got to enjoy the lavish place for himself and then piously give it over to religion–nice one! The original structure was burned down by a disturbed novice monk in 1950, and it has since been rebuilt. The hill walk here was far less impressive than that of the Silver Palace. I’m glad about that, actually, since I take it to mean that I’m getting a little better at distinguishing among the Japanese gardens I’ve seen, and determining which are more pleasing.

I love the temple gates

I love the temple gates

In the gardens of Ryoan-ji

In the gardens of Ryoan-ji

A view of the rock garden of Ryoan-ji

A view of the rock garden of Ryoan-ji

Ryoan-ji is part of the World Heritage listing of Kyoto, and it’s famous for its Zen rock garden, which has kept the same arrangement since the 15th century. The grounds are huge, and they include a large pond with ducks (which are apparently rare here), and a little fox shrine on a tiny island on the pond. Up the hill was the building. Everyone had to remove their shoes before entering, which is actually the first time I’d encountered that in a religious temple in Japan. (I removed them at every temple in Thailand.)

Teenagers in traditional dress, taking a selfie

Teenagers in traditional dress, taking a selfie

A miniature of the rock garden, so you can see the layout

A miniature of the rock garden, so you can see the layout

The rooms behind the rock garden were empty except for these beautifully painted screens

The rooms behind the rock garden were empty except for these beautifully painted screens

The rock garden is enclosed in a large stone fence. There are 15 rocks, set in carefully raked gravel/gray sand. I couldn’t get a good angle to see the whole garden at once, which is apparently intentional; you’re meant to sit and reflect on the portion you can see, and take meaning from that. You’re also only able to see 14 of the 15 rocks from any one point on the viewing pavilion, because you can “see” the final rock when you reach enlightenment. It would have been peaceful to sit there and reflect, but there were a lot of people and they all talked loudly, so that didn’t happen.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera

One last temple before sundown

One last temple before sundown

Detail on one of the structures at Kiyomizu

Detail on one of the structures at Kiyomizu

Picture perfect

Picture perfect

Getting to Kiyomizu Temple was more of a journey than I’d expected. I took a bus, walked up an endless hill, which finally turned into old Edo period buildings, and eventually I reached the shrine. It was a large complex, set around the edge of the hill, so for the first part you stood on the patio and looked across the ravine to a pagoda. (“Jump off the ledge at Kiyomizu” is a Japanese idiom similar to “take the plunge”–if you could jump 13 meters from the pavilion to a spot below, you’d get your wish. Not everyone survived this plunge.)

A peek at the pagoda

A peek at the pagoda

Up close

Up close

I saw what looked to be overflow on stock of religious sculptures on my walk through town

I saw what looked to be overflow on stock of religious sculptures on my walk through town

Then I walked along the rim of the valley to that pagoda and looked back at the buildings there, with the city off to the side and the sun starting to set. It was all picturesque, as just about everything in Japan was. Because I was there at closing, I didn’t get to to see the waterfall for which the temple is named, so, next time.

Goodbye, Kiyomizu and Kyoto

Goodbye, Kiyomizu Temple and Kyoto

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2 thoughts on “Temples in Kyoto

  1. These are gorgeous! But what I think I enjoy most reading are your reflections that go a little beyond what you’re looking at. For example, your questioning about taking photos of other people or your ability to discern slight differences in your appreciation for different temples. And, as always, the little tidbits of historical and cultural information are fascinating and much appreciated. Love it!

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