Kyoto has eleven wards--essentially, smaller "cities" within the metropolis of Japan's former capital. Each has a distinctive character and history, and unless you have weeks to spend in Kyoto, it's virtually impossible to see them all.
Last November, I paid my first visit to Higashiyama-ku (just "Higashiyama" works as well), a mountainous ward on the Eastern side of Kyoto that's home to numerous temples, shrines, and historical sites.
|A view of Kyoto from the steps of Kiyomizu-dera.|
Although it's impossible to see everything in a single day, I started early and managed quite a bit in the eleven hours and twelve walking miles that followed.
Here are the highlights.
I left Kyoto Station by bus, disembarking near 1200 year-old Kiyomizu-dera,
|The current pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera dates to the 17th century.|
a Buddhist temple named for the sacred waterfall on its grounds. Visitors scoop water from the falls, which allegedly has wish-granting properties. The temple is sacred to the Bodhisattva Kannon, goddess of mercy:
|This small shrine on the temple grounds is dedicated to stillborn and aborted children.|
Kannon is also represented on the temple grounds as Senryuu, the dragon who guards Kyoto:
|Kannon: merciful ... to a point.|
I could have spent all day there, but with only one day in Kyoto (due to research plans in other cities), I left the temple and strolled through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, a pair of preserved historical streets on the edge of Gion.
|Sannen-zaka: three hundred years back in time.|
Shops, teahouses, and restaurants line the hilly streets - and if you step off the beaten path, you can find even older teahouses and gardens:
|Preserved teahouse and garden, Sannen-zaka.|
|Custard cream puff from ninen-zaka. The line was out the door, and it was totally worth the wait.|
|I wish I could look this good at 500 years old.|
After exploring Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, I visited Ryozen Kannon Memorial, a shrine to the unknown soldiers and civilians who perished during "the war in the Pacific" - World War II.
|A lovely memorial to a horrific war.|
|The Zen meditation garden at Kodaiji.|
|Those "trunks" on either side are actually giant bamboo canes.|
|The San-mon: originally built in 1234. This version dates to the 17th century.|
|Lotuses in front, pines behind - hard to imagine a better place to meditate.|
I walked back through the park to Yasaka Jinja, a Shintō shrine constructed in 656 and the place where the famous Gion Matsuri festival originated.
|One of the many shrines at Yasaka Jinja.|
|Keeping watch for hundreds of years would leave me a little cross-eyed too.|
From there, I walked a mile and a half to the subway line I wanted (more direct, and faster, than the bus at that time of day) and enjoyed a fantastic tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) dinner at TONKATSU KSK restaurant in Kyoto station.
A long (like this post...) but thoroughly enjoyable day. If you find yourself with a day to spend in Kyoto, head for Highashiyama (and be sure to pack your walking shoes).