Kyoto I

After Tokyo, Kyoto felt quaint and picturesque. We walked almost everywhere, enjoyed the presence of street signs (Tokyo doesn’t believe in them, and it makes navigating interesting…), visited famous temples and smaller shrines tucked back in quiet neighborhood streets, ate Okonomiyaki (Alex may be its #1 fan), saw endless amounts of Japanese tourists in rented kimonos, and generally had a fantastic time. We mostly explored Higashiyama (northern and southern), on the eastern side of the river. There are a bunch of lovely temples and shrines in the hills on the edge of the city.

The first night we wandered up to Yasaka shrine and down Shijō-dori, one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto (also home to the Kabuki theatre). After seeing a poster advertising seasonal illuminations at one of the temples, we went to Kōdai-ji and had the luck to see it, along with its beautiful bamboo grove (yes, the LP cover suspect). It was a bit surreal to sit and watch a pseudo-laser lightshow accompanied with Philip Glass-esque music in such a unique environment. Walking home later we stumbled upon a tall pagoda, ethereally lit up in an empty street. As we discovered the following day, an empty street in Higashiyama is pretty hard to come by – impossible in daylight hours!

The next morning we started out at Sanjūsangen-dō, which is known for its lines upon lines (upon lines) of statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon. There are 1001 total, all Japanese cypress covered in gold leaf, most a bit dusty, but none the less impressive a sight as a result. We headed up into the hills above Higashiyama only to realize we’d made a premature turn and we were up in the cemetery district, amongst many Japanese relatives visting their dearly departed. Fascinating to see, but we were rather out of place. We redirected to visit the Kiyomizu-dera complex, which featured a traditional three-storied pagoda, a hall which is built on 12 meter high pillars and seems to hang mid-air, and a separate little shrine, Jishu shrine, dedicated to lovers. We stopped for lunch at a little udon noodle shop that has outdoor seating set up on the side of the park pathway in the shadow of the main hall, and then went back to see the Kōdai-ji temple in the light of day, as well as the big Buddha (Daibutsu) we’d glimpsed through the dark next door the previous night. We continued on through the Gion district and finished the night with a bus tour of the city that was intended to show off a series of illuminated monuments (this was the only true tour we did the whole trip…and the only disappointing travel experience we had the whole trip).

At all these places we saw some cherry trees just starting to burst into bloom – I can’t imagine how spectacular it must be when you are surrounded by full bloom at these temples. It must take your breath away. But even lacking that, I got some shots that show the beauty of the city and its holy sites.


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