Kiyomizu-dera and Higashiwara District Kyoto

More Day 4 in Kyoto and Morning of Day 5

After Fushimi-Inari, the place of the 4,000 red Torii gates, I dragged everyone to Kiyomizu-dera, one of my favorite places on my last visit to Japan, almost last lifetime now. It is a long trek up the hill, past our ryokan, and smaller temples (see a couple below), to the huge wooden temple in the SE hills overlooking Kyoto. Because of the mysterious holiday (we still don't know what it is. It seems to be complicated to explain) the street was absolutely jam-packed with people heading both up and down the narrow lane. Fascinating people watching. This is where we saw some of the geisha and also quite a few young people, both male and female, decked out in kimono and other interesting garb.

When we got to the temple the huge wooden deck, built on a steep hillside and overlooking the city, was packed with people. I felt nervous that it might not hold all the weight, but needn't have worried, as you can see from the next photo. That structure is so completely overbuilt that there was no danger at all. It is a beautifully designed and massively constructed temple.

Winding our way down the hill, we passed families waiting in line to partake in some ritual cleansing by sacred water, or that's how it seemed to us. Maybe the water simply tastes good. Good cheer, as usual. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

We were thinking of going to a famous unagi (grilled eel) place where the family has been serving eel for hundreds of years. It's in the Gion, a little ways down the hill. However, looking over the menu and the street-side displays we discovered that a simple bowl of rice with some grilled eel on top was over $60. It was probably delicious, but yikes. Went instead to a small restaurant in Pontocho, near the river, which we stumbled into on our first night, and where we all agreed had the freshest, best sashimi any of us had ever had in our lives (or since we were last in Japan). We will be showing you a series of photos of courses we had at an elaborate Japanese dinner, coming soon.

Next morning, our last in Kyoto (until we come back after our Tokyo stay), Don and I decided to walk around our neighborhood. Almost everything was closed. It was Monday, and it was still a holiday. Our ryokan is in the Higashiwara, in the hills of SE Kyoto, above the Gion. Every block seems to have a temple on it. It is also surrounded by many parks. The day was already hot, we walked up a long flight of beautiful stone stairs across the street from us to Kodai-ji temple. We ended up sitting in what we thought was a secluded spot in the shade, contemplating a beautifully carved and ancient gate with a forest on the other side. A young woman dressed all in black, who turned out to be a priestess, was standing modestly to the side. People appeared, many with a packet wrapped in a silk brocade and presented it to her with a bow. More and more people showed up and she soon had a tray filled with the packets. 2 other priests appeared, dressed in sky blue, white and black. They opened the ancient gate, chanted in unison, took the packets into the forest and reappeared empty-handed. Everyone bowed numerous times. We saw this re-enacted a second time, and left while the 3rd group was gathering. This is what I mean by not really having a clue, but it was all very gorgeous and fascinating.

We walked on through little wooded trails and came to a huge temple complex, which I think now was Chion-in. There was an elaborate Buddhist ceremony taking place inside the gigantic main temple. Many priests chanting under huge lacy golden hangings. The congregation sat to the left, stragglers, including us, kneeled on tatami mats, facing the back of the monks. Families with young children lit incense and tossed money into wooden offering boxes during the ceremony.

The Japanese seem to be able to multi-task very easily and deal with all kinds of sensory input. Kids were running back and forth, people coming and going, while a solemn ceremony was going on in a wooden shrine the size of a football field. Nobody seems to be at all disturbed or suffer from broken concentration. I've heard the same thing goes on at kabuki theatre: eating, talking, getting up, coming and going, anything goes. Nobody is bothered in the least. They do keep their voices down, though. No loud, raucous voices are heard, except occasionally when they're drunk at restaurants.

In this photo, you can see the back of a monk's shaven head under the railing; the priest, just to the right, has a yellow silk headdress on. The congregation on the left is barely visible.

Walked back through a park, Maruyama-koen, to our ryokan, grabbed our luggage, caught a cab to the Kyoto train station, bumped into Lewis and Chandra. Had a quick lunch and jumped on the Shinkansen to Naoshima, via a few transfers.

I know things are in turmoil at home. We would not have picked this time to travel, but we were locked into the trip and are very glad to be here. Good thing we're spending all our money here and not watching it plunge in the stock market.


Era and Don