Kyoto can sometimes make me cranky because there are tourists everywhere, especially at the temples and shrines. It’s difficult to see something without someone holding up a camera in front of you. And of course, I freely admit, I’m doing the same thing! But when you do get that moment alone, and you’re confronted by the extraordinary beauty of this place, it’s sublime. I’ve visited quite a few temples on this trip and here are some of the highlights:
Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) is one of the most popular temples (above left). The temple and the grounds are said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. As you approach this majestic scene it’s truly an inspiring sight. The top two stories of the building are covered in gold foil on lacquer and contain relics of Buddha.
There is also a beautiful tea house. I sit in the open air space (below left) and drink matcha green tea with a traditional sweet (right).
An easy way to get around Kyoto is by riding a bicycle. I rented one when I first arrived. I bike past this bridge, which is near the Path of Philosophy that leads from Nanzenji Temple to Ginkakuju Temple.
Nanzenji is not as important as some of the other temples in Kyoto but the grounds are beautiful (above left and right). The pine trees tower overhead and humble your spirit.
Perhaps my favorite temple is Sanjusangendo. The outside is plain compared to most. It’s a long rectangular building (below left) made of wood, but what’s inside is a stunning achievement.
1001 statues of the Buddhist deity called “Kannon” line the interior of the hall. There are 1000 standing statues and one large seated statue in the middle. They were made during the 12th and 13th centuries and it’s said that each one is unique.
You can’t take photos in the hall, but the view is so compelling, I found the above image online.
Gingakuji, The Silver Pavilion (above right) was built in 1492 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the builder of Kinkaku, The Gold Pavilion. Gingakuji is an interesting foil to the extravagance of The Gold Pavilion. Its restrained beauty marks a change in the aesthetics of the Japanese culture and it’s said to be the start of the Japanese modern lifestyle. Below right is a detail of the gardens at Gingakuji. Many cats live on the outskirts of the temples (below left).
Kiyomuzu is located on Mt. Otowa, one of Kyoto’s east mountains. There are several ornate buildings that are part of the grounds (above right). From the top of this lush and green hillside is a commanding panoramic view of Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine sits on the base of Inari mountain. Inari is the god of rice and many merchants and manufacturers worship this god for wealth. The inner shrine is reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii gates (below right and left). You can walk through the torii to reach the shrine but it takes about two hours one way. I don’t have the time, but I’ll definitely be back.
This is one of the outer buildings at Ninna-ji Temple. Ninna-ji was founded in the fourth year of Ninna (888). The temple is now headquarters of Omuro School of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.
Last but not least, I end my temple tour with Ryoanji. This temple is famous for it’s zen garden (above). The garden was created around 1500 and only contains fifteen rocks and white gravel. It’s a striking contrast to the greenery that surrounds the area (below left). I treat myself and stop for lunch at the restaurant on the grounds. They specialize in yudofu or tofu in hot water (below right). This simple dish is the perfect zen meal for my last day in Kyoto.