Saturday, April 25, 2009

OAT Japan, Saturday, March 28, 2009:

First Full Day in Kyoto

Kyoto offered so many attractions it was a real challenge to select the best temples and castles to visit within the five days available for touring this city. When the optional excursions are taken into account (a full day to Nara and Fushimi, and a half day to Arashiyama), it left just 3.5 days to explore Kyoto itself. Machiko rearranged the published itinerary over the next several days, to allow for possible logistics problems and minimize crowds and long waits.

Machiko arranged an early morning visit to the Buddhist Kiyomizu-dera Temple, located high in the hills east of downtown Kyoto. This spectacular temple complex afforded panoramic views of Kyoto and environs. The centerpiece was the main hall, the Hondo, built in 1633. It is an example of kakezukuri or "overhang" architecture. It is famous for its so-called "Kiyomizu-dera stage", an imposing veranda supported by tall wooden columns with wooden braces running through them crosswise and lengthwise. Other gates, pagodas and shrines, many painted in vermilion in shades from faded to brilliant, graced this spectacular hillside site. The spectacular weeping cherry tree in full bloom was frosting on the cake!

The Sanjusangen-do Temple was our next attraction. The name derives from sanjusan (open bays or indentations), located between the pillars of the Hondo (Main Hall), through which the public could view the famed 1001 carvings of the [allegedly] 1000-armed Kannon (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). The structure, reconstructed in 1266 after the original Hondo burned, is considered to be the longest wooden building in Japan. It houses one central Kannon flanked by ranks of 1000 smaller Kannon. We caught a glimpse of a wedding ceremony being performed before the major Kannon! The vermilion gates and beautiful gardens of the complex contrasted with the umber tones of the Hondo.

Next we enjoyed Nijo Castle and its grounds. The extensive gardens provided tranquil contrasts to the bustling commercial areas of Kyoto. The centerpiece of this complex was the 1603 Ninomaru Palace, a shining example of what one writer called “architectural intimidation.” To deter intruders, the shogun, Ieyasu, had the palace outfitted with squeaky “nightingale” floors (they still squeak today)! He also stationed bodyguards in hidden chambers. Another nearby building was the 19th century Honmaru Palace, which we able to view only from the exterior. This beautiful decoration was on exhibit near the exit of Nijo Castle.

As we exited Nijo Castle, we ran into a gauntlet of vendors selling food and souvenirs. Since dinner tonight was on our own, we decided to purchase some small bento boxes of sushi, to eat later.

Lunch today at the campus of the University of Kyoto was a treat! We were escorted to the sedate La Tour (The Tower), located in the Art Deco Centennial Building with its iconic clock tower (hence the name). The French menu consisted of a small green salad with pork slices accompanied by plum preserves; entrée choices of nicely prepared fish or beef; and a chocolate cake square with whipped cream and a dollop of ice cream.

The major historical highlight this afternoon was Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavilion), and its surrounding gardens. Kinkaku-ji or "Golden Pavilion Temple" is the informal name of Rokuon-ji or "Deer Garden Temple." The original building was constructed in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. His son converted it to a Zen temple. The present structure dates back only to 1955, because an obsessed young monk burned down the original building in 1950. The reconstruction quintupled the thickness of the gold leaf, and extended it to cover the upper two floors. [Lonely Planet]. Equally impressive were the strolling gardens, with the famed Kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond) providing the best reflections of this spectacular building.

We concluded today’s tour with a visit to the Nishijin Textile Center, where we were treated to a kimono fashion show. This was an amazingly popular event with both tourists and locals, so much so it was difficult to jockey into position to take photos! We also enjoyed browsing through the retail area. One of the many retail departments at the textile center featured these exquisite Japanese dolls.

We made a light dinner out of the sushi we bought at Nijo Castle, supplemented by the last of the strawberries we had bought in Kanazawa. This was an extremely full day, so we crashed soon thereafter.

No comments: