On our first day in Kyoto we went for a nice morning walk through the Philosopher's Path (Tetsugaku no michi) in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path was lined by hundreds of cherry trees closely following a canal. Since it is early April the trees are all blossoming like crazy, we truly picked the best time to visit Japan. After walking through the Philosopher’s Path we made our way down to the best preserved part of the district. It feels as if you have gone back into Kyoto’s past walking down these narrow streets, especially around the Yasaka Shrine. Here the buildings were all wooden, traditional merchant shops and café’s are lined up one behind the other and even the telephone poles have been taken out to add to the old city feel. We visited a few souvenir shops here and the Kiyomizu-yaki pottery store which sells local hand crafts and of course pottery. There are many interesting shops here, most have been here for centuries and are still in business today. Before heading to the Fushimi Inari Shrine we stopped at one café for tea. It tasted quite bitter but it is a tradition to drink green tea. The tea is supposed to have a bitter taste to it, and it is whisked in a bowl. It is a high honor to have green tea served to you, because it is a sign of respect.
Here's a photo to get a image of what it is:
We took a bus to the Fushimi Inari Shrine at around noon. This Shinto Shrine is one of the most famous in southern Kyoto for its thousands of torij gates that form an entire network of trails that lead into the forest of sacred Mount Inari. The pamphlet we got at the entrance said that the Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to “Inari” who is the Shinto god of rice. Walking around the grounds we spotted many fox statues. We asked a nice Japanese man whether there was a reason for why there are so many. He explained that foxes are believed to be Inari’s messengers and said that this shine is one of the most important and ancient ones dedicated to Inari. It was interesting walking through the bright orange torij gates; it felt like a maze that leads you into the unknown. It was really cool but we couldn’t spend too long here as we had another temple to go visit before it closed. Well, we were given a lot of information before we went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We are supposed to behave calmly, and respectfully. We are supposed to make a short prayer in front of the sacred object in the room, and to do this, you are supposed to toss a coin first into the offering box, and then make your prayer. We smelt a lot of burning incense, and saw them in large burners. They believe that the smoke from the incense has healing powers, so if you were to fan it to a part that hurts on you, it will help heal it. So we all tried it out. You never know what can come out of it. We were also told that when you enter a temple, you have to take off your shoes, and wear these weird plastic bags instead. I wish we had known to wear nice socks, because we felt somewhat embarrassed wearing obnoxiously colored socks into the temple. Better be careful about that for next time! One of the biggest things that we need to keep in mind is that photographs aren’t allowed inside of the temples, but they are allowed outside of it. That kind of sucks, but what can we do? Shrines have similar rules to temples, but there is a purification fountain near the entrance of the shrine, and you’re supposed to take a ladle, pour some of the water in your hand, and rinse your mouth and spit beside the fountain. You cannot transfer the water directly because it will then take away the purification elements of the water.
It was the Tōfukuji Zen Temple, only one station away with the JR Kyoto train line. This Zen temple is the main Zen temple in Kyoto and the head temple of one of the Rinzai sect schools of Zen Buddhism. We heard that people come here from all over Japan in the fall because of the tall maple trees turning into beautiful autumn colours. Even though we didn’t get to see this place in the fall it was very beautiful, we walked over the Tsutenkyo Bridge which is also famous for its views of the temple and the Sanmon Gate. The Sanmon Gate is the oldest Zen Gate dating back to 1425 and it is also one of the largest at 22 meters tall. Behind the Zen Gate there were many smaller buildings that stand as examples of Muromachi Period (1333-1573) architecture such as a meditation hall, bath and lavatory. Our last stop of the night was Gion, a famous geisha district on Shijo Avenue. The district is filled with many shops and restaurants as well as teahouses they call “ochaya” where geishas entertain. There are many traditional wooden merchant houses here and they are all very narrow. When we stopped for some drinks at one of the restaurant’s our waitress said these houses are so tiny because property taxes before were very high and based upon how much street frontage was taken up. We had learned a lot these last few days and can’t wait to learn and see a lot more. But that was our first day in Kyoto.
This is a awesome photo we took at the Fushimi Inari Shrine!