Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

West Gate and Three Storied Pagoda

Kiyomizu-dera has one of the most enviable locations in Kyoto. Set in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto, it has a commanding view of the city that was once the capital of Japan.  Kiyomizu-dera or the Pure Water Temple has been around since 778. It was named after the Otowa waterfall which flows down from a spring in the mountain above the hills. It is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Kita Hosso sect. 

Kiyomizu Stage

The Hondo or Main Hall was built in 1633. It has an impressive veranda known as the Kiyomizu Stage. It hangs 13 meters above the hillside and is supported by wooden pillars which were assembled without using a single nail. It is held together by wooden braces. The floor of the stage is made of cypress boards. The Hondo is considered a national treasure and is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site.

The pillars supporting the stage

It's a quite a climb up the hill to the temple halls but there are several spots to stop and rest along the way. The stage can be crowded at times and there's nothing to do but wait for your turn to stand on the edge of the veranda to enjoy the views of Kyoto and the surrounding woods below.  On the way down, I paused often to admire the pillars supporting the stage. It's an amazing sight. 

Deva Gate and Kyoto in the distance

At the base of the hill in front of Deva Gate is Higashiyama District which is a corridor of souvenir shops and restaurants.  Some enterprising food shops offer tea to entice visitors to come in and check their treats.  This worked for me because chilled green tea was exactly what I needed after a long trek on a hot September day. 

There are several interesting halls to discover in the Kiyomizu-dera compound so plan to spend some time here. Note that Amida and Okunoin Halls are closed for renovations until early 2013.

There's a fee to enter Hondo Hall. Buses 100 and 206 stop at Kiyomizu-michi from Kyoto Station. It's a 10 minute walk from the bus stop.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Higashi Honganji - Kyoto

"Now, Life is living you"

I was struck by this message on the wall surrounding the Higashi Honganji mother temple. "Now, Life is living you".  I believe we should live life. Not the other way around. Perhaps this is a wake up call.  The Shakyamuni Buddha taught a path to self awakening. "Through this, one is able to become aware of the futility and suffering caused by one's actions and eventually come to truly appreciate life as it is." (from Higashi Honganji - The Teaching of Jodo Shin-shu) 

A door leading to the Goeidō

When Kennyo the 11th  Monshu (Chief Priest) of the Jodo Shin-shu sect passed away in 1592, he named his third son, Junnyo, his successor. This created a conflict between Junnyo and Kyōnyo, the eldest son. Hideyoshi who arbitrated in this dispute of succession asked Kyōnyo to step down. In 1602, Kyōnyo, received land from the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. There he built his own temple. Honganji was thus divided into two branches. Higashi (East) Honganji became the head temple of the Otani-ha branch of Jodo Shin-shu.

The Veranda of the Goeidō

The Goeidō Hall (Founder's Hall) is one of the largest wooden structures in the world.  It houses the image of Shinran, the founder of Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism. One architectural element of this hall is its long and sweeping veranda which wraps around the building. The  building is 250 ft. long and 190 ft. wide. The wooden flooring is polished to a sheen. I would tread lightly on this beauty. The Amida Hall is under renovation and may be closed to the public. The current temple halls were reconstructed in 1879 and completed in 1895.

One of the gates to the temple complex

The Higashi  Honganji is a short walk from Kyoto Station. There is no fee to enter the temple. It's addres is
Karasuma Shichi-jō Agaru
Shimogyō-ku, Kyoto
www.higashihonganji.or.jp

Hours of Operation:
Oct. 5:50 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Nov–Feb. 6:20 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

 
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Images by Charie

Nishi Honganji Temple


The Altar

The Nishi Honganji (or West Honganji) is the main temple of the Hongwanji-ha denomination of Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism in Japan. Shinran Sonin founded the Jodo Shin-shu (True Pure Land) sect during the mid Kamakura period and it became one of the largest and most influential schools in succeeding centuries. Over time, the Jodo Shin-shu sect was challenged by both interminable wars and warlords who were bent on controlling the country.  Oda Nobunaga, a military leader, finally succeeded with the help of Emperor Ogimachi in moving the group out of Kyoto in order to diminish its power. Later, in the 17th century, the sect was divided into two factions, effectively weakening its political influence. The Nishi Honganji faction are followers of Junnyo, the third son and successor of Kennyo, the 11th Monshu (spiritual leader) and descendant of Shinran. To this day, the Jodo Shin-shu sect has kept its large following intact. It is the largest of any sect in Japan. 


The Goeidō Hall (left) and the Amida Hall (right)

There are two main halls in the compound - the Goeidō and the Amida Hall, the latter of which is dedicated to the Amida Buddha, the most important Buddha in Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism. The Goeidō or Founder's Hall is consecrated to Shinran whose image is on the main altar. Though the altar is heavily gilded, it doesn't distract the mind. I felt at ease sitting on the tatami mat while admiring the beautiful altar.
   
Water Purification Ritual

It is important to observe the rules of decorum when visiting a temple (or church for that matter) even though you may profess a diferrent faith. For starters, dress appropriately. Remove shoes before entering the temple. Follow the purification ritual of  hand washing. Wash the right hand first, then the left. Carefully put ladle back so that the handle points down towards the ground.  Always check if taking photos inside the temple is allowed before you click away.

The Nishi Honganji was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 1994  The buildings we see today were constructed in the 17th century after a fire in 1617 razed the main halls to the ground.

The temple is open all year round. There is no entrance fee. It's a short walk from Kyoto Station. The address is:
60 Horikawa-dori
1-294 Shimogyu-ku
Kyoto

Hours of operation: 
5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October)
5:30 to 18:00 (May to August)
6:00 to 17:00 (November to February)

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Images by Charie

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ryōan-ji Temple

"When the mind is at peace, the world too is at peace".  P'ang Yun

The Rock Garden

The Ryoan-ji Temple was once the country estate of the Tokudaiji Clan. In 1450 it was bought by Hosokawa Katsumoto who converted it into a Zen training temple. Neither the origin nor the meaning of the rock garden is definitively known though according to the brochure, Tokuho Zenketsu, a Zen monk, may have created it around 1500. The rectangular garden has 15 rocks (both large and small) sitting on moss and look like islets amidst white gravel. It can be viewed from the portico of the Hojo which was the former residence of the head priest. There are stairs leading down to the stone garden where you can sit awhile and meditate on the significance of this creation. But at midday the intimate portico becomes too crowded and meditating or taking an unobstructed photo may present a challenge.

Tatami room

The Hojo has several tatami rooms divided by sliding doors called fusuma. These doors and walls are painted in the traditional style. The rooms are spacious and airy and are surrounded by two small gardens. At the back of the Hojo is a stone wash basin called tsukubai. You wash your hands here before entering the tea room (which is not open to the public). It has an inscription in Kanji that says, "I learn only to be contented".  This is an important belief in Zen Buddhism because the person who is content is considered spiritually rich.

Kyoyochi Pond

There are benches around the pond where you can sit and contemplate on the beauty of these water lilies. Or eat your sushi in peace. I think of Monet when I see water lilies. He painted so many of them. It's easier to appreciate his fascination with nymphéas when you read what he had to say about them: "Water lilies are an extension of my life. Without water, the lilies will not live, as I without my art".

Take Bus 50 from Kyoto Station. It's a long 35 minute ride. The fare as of this writing is 220 yen. It's best to buy a bus pass if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing during the day. A one day pass is 500 yen. Bus passes are sold at the bus ticket counter across from Kyoto Station. Or have your coins ready and pay the driver as you leave the bus. Signs and announcements inside the bus are both in English and Japanese. Enter the bus from the side and exit through the front door.

There is an entrance fee to the temple. Shoes will have to be left in the Kuri building which serves as the main entrance to the rock garden. Ryoan-ji is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except from December to February when it opens later at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m.

Ryoan-ji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1994.

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Images by Charie


Kyoto

I have been dreaming of going to Kyoto since I read Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" many moons ago. This dream was fortified when I watched the movie version and was enthralled by the characterization and haunting scenery. After years of planning, I finally had the chance to visit Kyoto last September. I approached a "Kyoto travel expert" before leaving and asked him to recommend three temples I should visit on my first trip to this city. These were his recommendations: Kinkakuji, Kiyomizu-dera and Ryōanji . To this list I added Gion, Kyoto's famous geiko district. I had a lot on my plate with only two and a half days to spare. I thought I shoud take a bus tour so I could maximize my time. The guided tours though were quite expensive and after my introductory walk to Terramachi, I found Kyoto easy to navigate on foot and discovered that several buses stopped at most of the temples I wanted to visit.

So here's what I managed to see during my stay in Kyoto and how I got there:
Kinkakuji Temple - by bus
Kiyomizu-dera - by bus
Ryōanji Temple - by bus
Fushimi-Inari Shrine - by train
Nishi Honganji - on foot
Higashi Honganji  - on foot
Gion - by bus and on foot
Terramachi Market - on foot

In the next few weeks I'll write about these special places I visited because each one deserves a full write-up. My journey begins and ends at Kyoto Station, a city within a city. Here's a preview.


The Matrix, Kyoto Station


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Image by Charie

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunset


Just went out in time to see the sky ablaze in glory. Rushed back in to get my IPad and caught the last rays of the sun. What luck!

"When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator".  Mahatma Gandhi

Amen.

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Image by Charie

To travel is to


I found this quote on the Gadling Facebook status and I wanted to share it with all of you who love to travel. This quote originated from Afar magazine's "fill in the blank" post on Facebook. Yes, to travel is to grow.

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Space Shuttle Endeavour


What a thrill it was for all of us who witnessed the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour riding piggyback on a jumbo jet 747 as it soared above Bay Area skies on its way to its retirement home in Los Angeles! We had a great view of the Endeavour accompanied by two jet bombers and with our smartphones, took photos of this once in a lifetime spectacle. After 25 space missions from 1992 to 2011, the Endeavour will be parked in the California Science Center where it will be on permanent display starting on October 30, 2012.

California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
Phone: (323) SCIENCE
(323) 724-3623
http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/MainPage.php

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Image by Charie