Kyoto

Kyoto is the one place on our Japan itinerary that I had been to before; I was here in September 2000 as part of Semester at Sea. There are two places I distinctly remember when I think of Kyoto – the Golden Pavilion and the Kiyomizu Temple. Some of my family reading this blog today may remember seeing photos I emailed home from Japan while on Semester at Sea. It was before the days of blogging and before digital cameras were widespread (I remember being one of the few on that voyage with a digital camera). I would have to find an Internet cafe in port and attach photos to an email message. Oh, how much has changed in the last 13 years.

Despite how much technology has changed in the last 10-15 years, Kyoto’s many historical sites remain largely unchanged from how they stood hundreds of years ago. Kyoto was Japan’s capital for over 1,000 years and its collection of historical sites are a reminder of the city’s past glory.

Here are the highlights from our sightseeing in Kyoto. The leaves here turn in late November/early December, so we had the added bonus of seeing all the beautiful fall colors.
Kiyomizu Temple: Founded in 798 and rebuilt in 1633, the temple occupies an exalted spot with spectacular views of Kyoto. The road  leading up to the temple is lined with shops. The temple’s main hall is built over a cliff and features a large wooden veranda supported by 139 pillars, each 50 feet high. The main hall was built without the use of a single nail. The name of the temple, Kiyomizu, means “pure water”. Below the pagoda, Japanese line up to drink fresh spring water from the Otowa Falls.
kiyomizu temple

kiyomizu temple

kiyomizu temple

kiyomizu temple

kiyomizu temple

kiyomizu temple

from the temple's main hall

from the temple’s main hall

beautiful fall colors at kiyomizu temple

beautiful fall colors at kiyomizu temple

lovely time of year

autumn leaves in shades of orange…

love the autumn leaves

…and shades of pink

the main hall

the main hall

overlooking kyoto

overlooking kyoto

pillars of the main hall

pillars of the main hall

Jishu Shrine: This shrine is known as a dwelling place of the deity in charge of love and matchmaking. On the shrine’s grounds are two stones placed about 30 feet apart – if you’re able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you’re supposedly guaranteed success in your love life. It was fun to watch all the school kids give a try, giggling the entire time.
jishu shrine

jishu shrine

jishu shrine love rock

jishu shrine love rock

Sannenzaka: A cobblestone street that winds through neighborhoods of wooden buildings reminiscent of old Kyoto. Along the way, we stopped for a coffee break.

sannenzaka

sannenzaka

coffee break

coffee break

it comes out hot & actually tastes pretty good

it comes out hot & actually tastes pretty good

Yasaka Shrine: Located near the Gion district, this shrine is dedicated to the gods of health and prosperity.

yasaka shrine

yasaka shrine

yasaka shrine

yasaka shrine paper lanterns

prayers on paper

prayers on paper

Gion: This is Kyoto’s still working Geisha district. We were there in the middle of the day, so didn’t see it in full swing. The district is a collection of streets lined with old wooden buildings. After the sun goes down, it’s inside these buildings that geishas sing and dance while patrons drink, talk and make business deals.

gion

gion

Shijo Dori: The word “dori” simply means “street”; we learned this early on when we noticed it was on nearly every street sign with English. The Shijo Dori is Kyoto’s central shopping precinct.

shijo-dori

shijo-dori

Nishiki Market: Kyoto’s main market, located just off the Shijo Dori.

nishiki market

nishiki market

nishiki marke

nishiki market

nishiki market

nishiki market

Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion): This gold foil coated pavilion is symbolically Kyoto. What makes it even more stunning is seeing its reflection shimmer across the pond before it. We were there as the sun was starting to set; it was beautiful to see the sun cast it in different lights.

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

the golden pavilion

While in Kyoto, we stayed in a studio apartment. It was extremely high-tech. At the front door was an automated system for checking in & out. In the apartment itself was a manual explaining how to work all the electronics. Thankfully, it included English translations or we wouldn’t have known how to operate anything. No room service, but there was a vending machine stocked with sodas, coffee (hot or cold), and beer.

this one panel is just for the shower!?!

this one panel is just for the shower!

mini-coke

mini-coke

We did A LOT of walking in Kyoto. By conservative estimate, in one day we walked over 10 miles. All this walking, combined with taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, is one way we try to stay in shape while traveling.  While doing all the walking around Kyoto, one thing we couldn’t help but notice was all the bicycles parked along sidewalks without any locks on them. We were also surprised to see a lot of very young kids (probably 5 or 6 years old), walking the streets alone or with just a couple friends as well as young kids taking the subway by themselves. We have also been surprised by how people do not keep an eye on their belongings. They will just walk off – go to the restroom or wherever – and leave their cell phone, purse, computer bag, etc just sitting there until they get back. Although we do feel safe here, that’s something we would never do.
It seems that crime must not be a major issue in Japan. We looked into this and found that the country has the lowest crime rate of any industrialized country. Which left us wondering why. Best explanation we found is that the culture is very much about putting the group ahead of the individual, which stems from a deep history of people living as part of villages where all were taken care of, regardless of ability. If a person did something criminal, that person was abolished from the village. People do not want to be outsiders; there is a desire to remain on the inside. That desire holds true today. And it probably doesn’t hurt that the laws are harsh and swift.

8 responses to “Kyoto

  1. Did you have a different impression or an awareness this time from when you were in Kyoto as a HS student (now that you have traveled so much)? As usual your photos give us access to your eyes! I had not thought much about the abundance of Japanese Maple trees in the city. Glorious time to be there to get to see the fall colors too.

    • I also enjoyed the colors. The shower control was interesting as well as the lack of crime.
      I tried to reply just to Becky that your previous time in Kyoto was as a college
      senior in the fall of 2000, not high school.
      I used to have all your emails archived from

    • I do think my awareness and understanding has significantly improved since then. It was, for the most part, as I remembered. However, I found myself noticing things I was probably too overwhelmed to notice the first time around.

  2. Wow, the photos you took are stunningly beautiful~they look like postcard scenes. The fall colors are gorgeous! So interesting how people leave their belongings without fear~thanks for explaining the culture~interesting as always!! Cute mini coke can Jay was holding!

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