May 21, 2013
Kyoto Hana Hostel
We got into Kyoto a little early yesterday so while we waited to check in I started doing some digging into any events that were going on in the area during our stay. As luck would have it I found the perfect thing, a local flea market held on the 21st of every month at a nearby temple (To-ji). Neither of us are big shoppers but I thought it might be neat to get a little taste of a local market that sells everything – vintage kimonos, food, antiques, pottery, art and everything in between.
After a light breakfast we strolled down to To-ji and before we saw the market we could see the tall pagoda peaking out from the treetops. The entrance gate hid the maze of tents held behind and truth be told we got lost while wandering around; there was so much to look at and it was easy to lose your bearings.
My favourite discovery was this gorgeous tea kettle collection and Jeff had to be town away from a Nintendo Famicom console; both posed practical problems of how to get our treasures home. Jeff was also intrigued by a stall with Japanese army memorabilia.
Taking a break from the flea market we remembered that there was a temple hidden amongst all the vendors.
The temple area was small and understated, probably not worth the visit if you are limited on time in Kyoto, but because of the flea market it was busy with activity. There were monks in the courtyard and a monk burning offerings in the small temple. Trying to find our way back through the flea market lead us through the food section where everything smelled delicious, but looked suspect. English signs were hard to find so we weren’t always sure what each stall was selling.
We mostly restrained ourselves and ended up leaving the market with a second hand yukata (cotton robe) and a silver bottle opener with kanji on the handle – a miracle considering all the neat stuff that was there.
Our second stop of the day was the Fushimi Inari shrine, everyone knows the iconic image of the red torii gate pathway and I was excited to see it in person. On approach a huge torii gate marks the entrance and foxes stand guard on either side. Inari is the god of rice and foxes are thought to be his messengers.
After a short hike past the temple the path starts with thousands of red torii gates marking the way. Each torii has been donated by individuals or companies and the cost starts from 400,00 yen and goes up to 1.3 million yen for the largest ones.
The light takes on an orange hue where the torii gates are the closest together but the further you go the more spread out they get and you start to get peaks of the forest between each one.
The entire path takes about 3 hours to complete but after 45 minutes we reached a natural plateau and took a detour off the path into a shrine area where small torii gates were stacked on top of each other and shrine after shrine lead the way.
I could feel Temple Fatigue starting to set in so before we could lose momentum we moved on to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple in East Kyoto.
There were two reasons I included Kiyomizu-dera on my list; 1 – not a single nail was used in its construction and 2 – beneath the main hall is Otowa waterfall which is believed to have wish-granting powers. You get a real sense of the scope of construction while walking down a staircase behind the main building. You can see the beam supports and how they are all notched into each other, hence no need for nails.
I discovered that Otawa waterfall isn’t really a waterfall at all, at least not what I was expecting. It’s a man made structure where guests can use a cup to catch water from one of the streams to fulfill their wish. The line up was huge so we only watched for awhile and my wish went un-wished.
The sun was high in the sky as we left the temple grounds so we escaped into an airconditioned restaurant for lunch. I meant to take a picture of our lunch bowls but we were both so hungry we ate without a second thought and all we were left with was the aftermath…
Neither of us had much energy left (partly from the temples and partly from the lunch), but we had all day bus passes we needed to get the value out of so we decided on one last temple to close out our day and we had to make it a good one. So what’s better than gold?
We boarded a bus, during rush hour, and endured a steamy 45 minute ride, packed tight against strangers with no air conditioning. The goal was Kinkaku-ji or The Golden Pavilion, a very famous building that has been burned down twice (most recently in 1950 by a fanatic monk).
Unfortunately, like most of the temples and shrines in Tokyo, you can’t go inside. When you consider the number of tourists who visit these sites it makes sense but it’s still disappointing. You have to wonder when something is as grand as that on the outside, what does the inside look like? There was a path around the lake that lead behind the building and through a large garden.
Conveniently the path pops you out beside an ice cream stand which we decided we both deserved for making it through all those temples without tapping out or giving up. Cheers!