Tuesday, 5 June 2012

kyoto and its temples

We took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto (and here our budget for Japan diminished significantly), where we have a small apartment for our 6-day stay.  We are right in the Gion district, which is Geisha district.  We haven’t seen any Geishas yet but we did see a Maiko (Geisha apprentice) dance and we were accompanied by two young kimono-clad girls throughout the whole of one day.  They were advised to keep their own (more comfortable) footwear instead of wearing the Japanese slippers.  Hence their Birkenstocks… We also skimped a bit on the hairstyling because that was going to cost us an additional 1500 yen per person.       

We’ve been visiting temples a lot in Kyoto. Now why aren’t you surprised?   Yesterday we visited the Ryoanji Zen temple; its rock garden that was laid out in the late 15th century considered one of the absolute masterpieces of Japanese culture.  The girls were expecting a challenging rocky terrain to climb (the fact that they were in kimonos didn’t seem to deter the thought!), so they practically missed the super minimalist, super simple, super zen rock garden that consisted of white gravel and 15 irregular-shaped rocks.  The gravel is raked every day and the rocks and spaces in between them mesmerize the longer you sit and contemplate them.

The rocks are arranged in such a way that you can only see 14 of them at once, no matter what angle the garden is viewed from.  Apparently only when you attain spiritual enlightenment with deep Zen meditation can you see the last invisible stone.  Well, do you think our two Little Miss Impatients will let us sit and meditate?

Today we were at the Fushimi Inari shrine.  I must admit that I didn’t do any homework before going and so I was quite perplexed by it all as they were no information on site in English.  Its great, and I really am grateful, that I have a husband who organizes everything but it does make me a bit of a lazy tourist.  But the temple really left an impression on me so I this afternoon I did some research (alright, I googled) and this is what I found out.  Firstly, it is a shrine that honours the Shinto god of rice (its contemporary equivalent being success and prosperity), Inari.  The endless stretch of vermillon gates are called Torii and each is donated by a Japanese business or a merchant.  So… all those characters on the Torii that I could not read must have indicated who the donor was.  Each side of a shrine entrance is guarded by a pair of guardian dogs or lions called Komainu.  Foxes, in the case of Inari shrines, as they are believed to be messengers for Inari.

JB gave me some time alone time today, sans kids, so I wandered off into the centre of Kyoto (where the shops are, of course, what do you expect?).  I just love peering into the shops.  Whether they be selling candy, socks or hats, everything is so artistically displayed and the packaging is an art in itself. 

Do you reckon we’d be sick of sushi by now?  Not quite.  Even when we decide to cook a simple meal at the apartment, we end up buying some.  Excuse me while I go and eat another sushi and visit another temple.

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