Hey there! Since we had such a good time bringing in the New Year in Tokyo, we decided to head back to the Land of the Rising Sun to welcome the Lunar New Year, too! This time, we headed off to Kyoto: the imperial capital of Japan.
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, is the typical tourist picture I’ve always associated with Kyoto. It is incredibly impressive in person; you walk up a slight hill to get to the Pavilion, so it just kind of appears out of nowhere, all bright and shiny yellow. The Pavilion is covered in gold leaf, hence its name! Visitors aren’t allowed to actually enter the Pavilion (which also houses relics of Buddha).
So, once we’d snapped a few photos of it we got kind of bored and left. I think it would be much better to visit in the spring or summer, when you can really appreciate the surrounding gardens, which were modeled on Paradise.
Kyoto has a crazy amount of temples and shrines; we were only there for four days, so we tried to visit some of the most popular ones, and naturally stumbled upon a few unexpected surprises along the way!
Next up, one of the National Treasures of Japan: Sanjusangendo!
Nope, it doesn’t look like much, certainly not something you’d consider a National Treasure! Sanjusangendo is one of those super special places that just can’t be captured on film…because photography is strictly forbidden inside!
The hall contains a staggeringly impressive collection of 1,000 life-size statues of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kannon, and 30 guardian deities, all surrounding one absolutely immense, gold leaf-covered statue of Kannon. You don’t need to be religious or have any knowledge of Buddhism to appreciate Sanjusangendo; the silence of the hall, the ancient, faded wooden beams and ceilings, the smell of incense, and the overwhelming sight of over one thousand hand-carved, life-size statues will send shivers up anyone’s spine. The main statue of Kannon, seated on a huge lotus flower, is out of this world. Feel free to search for pictures on Google, but they really don’t do this place justice.
Another Japanese National Treasure is the mega impressive Kiyomizu-dera: an ancient temple built on a complex stack of pillars, without the use of a single nail!
It’s a moderately steep walk to get up to the temple, but totally worth it.
The trees surrounding the temple are all cherry blossoms, so it would look amazing in the spring.
Apparently in the Edo period, it was common practice for people to throw themselves off of the temple’s stage, in the hopes that it would bring good luck…if they survived, obvs.
The Otowa Waterfall; drinking its water brings good luck in various aspects of life (school, marriage, wealth…), but it’s frowned upon to drink from all three streams!
Japanese moss is my favorite! These tiny jizo statues honor miscarried, stillborn, and aborted babies. Most of these were so worn away, they just looked like little rounded rocks.
Eoin found a pointy pagoda, yay!
We walked down through the Higashiyama district after leaving Kiyomizu-dera; it’s a long touristy street, similar to Nakamise, the shopping street leading to Asakusa temple.
A shop selling Kyoto’s most famous confection, yatsuhashi! They’re triangular, thin rice cakes made with sugar and cinnamon and filled with red bean paste. Super yums!
This pottery shop was crammed full of ceramic nick-nacks; it took a lot of dexterity to walk around inside without knocking anything over. The shop was owned by the craziest and cutest little old Japanese lady; I don’t think she really knew what was going on, she was just running around writing random prices on stickers (really random, like 713 yen) and putting them on things.
We bought some little tanuki friends from her, and she was totally adamant that each one needed to be wrapped in pretty blue paper and put into a fancy little box.