Continued from Day 8: Shin-Osaka and Doutonburi.
Kyoto is home to over fifteen World Heritage sites, making this a key stop for tourists to Japan. After alighting at Kyoto Space Port err Station for coffee and doughnuts (a fifteen minute bullet train ride is not conducive to ekiben-ing), we got on the subway to our small but perfectly-formed gem of a ryokan, Nagomi Ryokan Yuu.
Situated in a quiet street off the north side of Higashi Honganji, it was a bit of a challenge to get there — especially if you had suitcases in tow. But it is not impossible, and once you get there you will be welcomed by the neighborhood stray cats, and rewarded by the coziness of the room and the prettiness of the inn.
Our first stop after dropping off our suitcases was the nearby Higashi Honganji. When I say “nearby” it sound likes it’s a tiny neighborhood temple, but in truth it is a massive complex housing two of the largest wooden structures in the world. It’s so big — you can’t fit all of it in a photo without a wide-angle lens — and that’s just the temple gate! It’s a good thing I left my SLR and 50mm 1.4D at home :P
Some of the most notable features at this Buddhist temple — besides the sheer size of the buildings, are the beautiful details decorating the posts and ceilings of all the structures. There is also a dragon-festooned hand-washing tub that the local pigeons like to bathe in. Last but not least is the temple itself — although large, it managed to seem welcoming and serene.
We came in just in time for prayers, and spent a few minutes inside while the monks chanted. Outside the doors, a security guard prevented tourists from taking photographs of the inside of the hall, as well as walking all over the tatami floors in their shoes (you have been warned).
After lunch at Kyoto Station Yodobashi Multimedia-plex (try repeating that really fast), it was off to Inari Station for — what else, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Protected by the fox diety O-inari-sama, this shrine is best known as the Shrine of the Thousand Torii (Vermilion Gates). If you’ve seen the film Memoirs of a Geisha, one of its most dramatic scenes was shot here.
O-inari-sama is the guardian of rice and rice wine, as well as the god of business and trade. Local businesses curry favor with the god by building torii in his honor — which was how this shrine managed to amass more than one thousand of them. The torii are built on several uphill paths that diverge and converge all over the shrine’s mountainous rear section. It is said that if you manage to pass underneath all of them (a two hour hike!), a wish will be granted by the fox god.
A funny thing happened when we were on our way home from the shrine: it was sunny and raining at the same time, a phenomenon that the Japanese call “kitsune no yome-iri” or “fox’s wedding”. Similar to the Filipino turn of phrase “kinakasal na tikbalang”, the Japanese believe that when the sky is sunny and rainy at the same time, a fox spirit is getting married. And considering we were at Inari Shrine, it was kinda cool <3
The last stop of the day was at the famous Kinkakuji or Golden Pavilion. It was late in the afternoon when we got there — deliberate since that means you will catch the golden rays of the sun as it sets, but unfortunately the slight drizzle we encountered at Fushimi Inari shrine was full-blown rain when we got to Kinkakuji so it was not fun. Not fun at all :(
However, getting soaked in the freezing rain came with its reward. We were treated to stunning sunset views of the pavilion — you literally cannot take a bad photo! After we had snapped pics to our heart’s content, we made out way out the back where we saw some people trying to toss small change into a stone bowl several feet away. Apparently, if you can get one into the bowl you will have incredible luck over the next year. After two tries, I managed to get my third coin in so huzzah! Good karma for the next 365 days!
The Golden Pavilion complex also housed a Shinto shrine at the back, so we decided to get some fortunes told courtesy of a coin-operated “omikuji” dispenser. As if refuting my good luck from the coin toss, my omikuji said I was only going to have neutral luck. Hoping to dispel that and get some good juju going, I tied my fortune to a tree and hope for better luck in the days ahead.
Unfortunately, it was nearly closing time and we were herded up and out the shrine, so we were not able to have a break at one of the many red umbrella tea shops at the temple. For those unfamiliar with the red umbrellas, they are used in ancient Japan to indicate rest stops for travelers. You basically sat down under a red umbrella (on a wooden bench or raised dais) and had tea and cakes.
Would’ve been fun :( Maybe next time…