Memorial Day weekend I visited Kyoto. It had been on my travel list for a while since it is the cultural capital of Japan, and is one of the few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombing during World War II. So there are more historical structures and neighborhoods still in existence, even though they reside right along and among modern day Japanese architecture. If you love temples and shrines, this is definitely the city for you. I didn’t even see all of them, but focused on some of the larger, more famous and more beautiful temples.
The first one I visited was Nijo Castle which is pretty centrally located in the city. The external building of the main castle,, Ninomaru Palace, is very beautiful.
The one thing about many (though thankfully not all) Japanese castles/temples is that photographs are not allowed inside of most of these structures. So you just relax and enjoy the view and you don’t worry about jockeying for position to take photographs. Asian castles, palaces and temples are set up very differently than their counterparts in the West, which is no surprise. The most interesting feature of this castle is the nightingale floors. Every time someone steps on these floorboards, you hear a squeaking sound like a nightingale bird. They were installed to protect the shogun from enemies, and the sound can be rather loud when tour groups are shuffling through.
The entire castle complex is encircled by thick stone walls. There are other buildings located throughout the castle grounds, along with a very peaceful garden.
The next main temple I visited was the Sanjusangendo Hall. This is another temple that prohibits photography of its interior.
The interior of the temple is rather spectacular. The entire hall stretches nearly 120m and is filled with 1,001 wooden statues of the thousand-handed Kannon surrounding a huge seated Kannon status in the center of the hall. It’s rather awe inspiring to realize that these wooden statues date from the 12th and 13th centuries and still exist. It’s rather hard to describe and should be something that is taken in to appreciate the artistry of the statuary.
After that temple, I continued my day long walk of eastern Kyoto with Kiyomizu Temple. This temple was initially built in 798 CE and rebuilt in 1633. It too is a temple complex filled with other entry buildings and pagodas to enjoy.
One of the most popular buildings in the temple complex is Jishu Shrine. This shrine is considered to be the home of the god of love and matchmaking. One can purchase charms for all sorts of desires, and even leave your own wishes.
The main hall of the temple complex is constructed over a cliff and has a large wooden veranda supported by 139 pillars.
The temple grounds were rich in green, because it was the height of spring. I can only imagine how beautiful the grounds look in the fall when the leaves turn into explosions of reds, oranges, and yellows. As you can see in the picture, this is a very popular place to visit, not only for foreign tourists but also school groups. I visited on a Saturday, and there were literally busloads of schoolkids running through the grounds.
Probably one of the most aesthetically beautiful temples in Kyoto is Kinkakuji Shrine (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The original temple was constructed in the 1390s and was covered in gold leaf. The original structure was burned to the ground in 1950, and the temple was rebuilt in 1955.
I visited this temple on Monday, and not surprisingly, there were hordes of school groups visiting the site (seriously is that all school kids do every day-visit beautiful sites?) But still, the pavilion itself is very beautiful to look at (you can’t go inside the structure), and the surrounding green parklands was very beautiful.
It would be easy to overdose on temples and shrines and palaces in Kyoto, just because there are so many in the city, many of them original. But if you like beauty, they are certainly not to be missed in Kyoto.