Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Best Temples and Shrines in Kyoto

To attempt to write about Kyoto in one post would be a huge undertaking and I don't think I would ever get it right. So I decided to break down Kyoto by attractions, and in this post I want to focus on the most prominent one in Kyoto: the temples. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and it's famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. We spent three days in Kyoto and tried to explore as much as we could. In fact all of our days were filled with walking and sightseeing. We did manage to see a lot and for this post I will share some of the best sights we captured.

This post is part of a multi-part travel series from Japan.
For the other parts click here

Arrival in Kyoto and Exploring Nishiki Market

We arrived to Kyoto from Hakone, midday and rested in our hotel for a while. Then, just at sunset, started to explore the city. We went to the Nishiki market to get some dinner. The market is located on the east end of Nishikik┼Źji Street and it's Rich with history and tradition, as the market is regarded as the place to obtain many of Kyoto's famous foods and goods. The market is often called “Kyoto’s kitchen” for its abundance of shops (about 130) offering fruits, vegetables, fish, dry foods and more. We had dinner at the Ootoya chain restaurant. We had a selection of chicken, jams, miso soup, rice and vegetables.

Exploring the Temples of Kyoto

During any walk around the ancient capital you’re bound to come across a sacred site as the city has built up around them. It’s incredible how the authentic and serene some of Kyoto’s best temples are, despite their location in the city center.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine that boasts thousands of bright orange torii gates leading up the sacred Mount Inari. The upkeep of the gates is sponsored by local businesses and it is believed to keep these organizations financially prosperous. The shrine was built back in 711 and is dedicated to the fox (inari) which is believed to protect the annual harvests. All around this Shrine you will come across statues of foxes. It takes around 2 hours to hike to the summit of the mountain. You can reach the shrine by taking the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station. 

Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion)

After our stay at the Fushimi Inari Shrine we went all the way north to Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion). It was originally constructed as a retreat for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1460. Modelled after the  Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji), which we also visited, this temple was supposed to be coated in silver, but the shogun’s plans were thwarted by a war and the temple remained as it is today. Though Ginkakuji is somewhat sombre compared to its golden counterpart, it’s still a place of great natural and man-made beauty. Within its walls the traditional arts of Noh theatre, flower arrangement and the tea ceremony are taken to their heights. The rock garden in Ginkakuji is one of the highlights of a visit and is frequently changed.

Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion)

Located in the serene area of Kinkakuji-cho in the north-east of Kyoto, this temple is one of the highlights of Kyoto. Standing here is very humbling and inspiring as the golden facade reflects back to you on a sunny day. Originally constructed as a retirement pavilion for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga in 1397 the temple was destroyed multiple times, and the present one was erected in 1955 and is the exact replica of the original one, with the exception that the upper stories are coated with gold leaf, according to the wishes of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. Again in 1987, the golden coating was made thicker, in addition to enhancing the interiors as well as restoring the statue of Yoshimitsu.

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine has a relatively short history, dating back just over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital's foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto.

Ryoanji Temple and rock garden

Ryoanji is famous for its karesansui rock garden more than the temple itself. Belonging to the austere Rinzai sect of Buddhism, the raked stone and rock garden is the epitome of Zen. Containing 15 rocks arranged into 3 groups of 3, 5 and 7, the garden is constructed so that only 14 rocks can be seen at any one moment. If you adjust your position another rock will appear only to find a different one newly hidden. To avoid the crowds, try to get to Ryoanji early in the morning. To reach the temple, take the Keifuku Kitano line to Ryoanji-michi station.

Yasaka Shrine

As night came upon us we saw one more shrine. It was theYasaka Shrine. It's also called the Gion Shrine, it's the centrepiece of the annual Gion Festival. We saw it while on our way to the Gion District. Built in the 7th century, the enshrined Shinto deity Susanoo-no-Mikoto symbolises prosperity and protection against pestilence. A ritual when attending Yasaka Shrine is to write a prayer, wish or thought on a small piece of paper and tie it to the tree covered with tiny paper bows.

I hope you enjoyed our exploration of the Shrines of Kyoto. I hope to bring your more from Kyoto in the next post. Kyoto is a modern city as well and features lots to see and lots to do. Of course there is also the natural beauty of the city which we saw as well. More stories in the next installment.

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  1. Fabulous post, Mersad! So much to see! It's interesting that they dress the fox...

    1. Yes, that was interesting to me as well. They have a separate fox shrine as well.

  2. All these sites are nostalgic for me! Love the streetscape the most ironically. The life of the Kyoto is the heart of its culture and tradition

    1. Kyoto is amazing. More streetscape in the next part!

  3. ...Japan looks like an exciting travel destination.

  4. Your photos are stunning and vibrant! I love the shadows on the steps of the Rock Garden. And the last shots at night are excellent. The sky is ink black, yet all the other details are so visible and bright.

    1. Thanks Ginny. They light everything so beautifully at night so it's easy to see in the pictures.

  5. Mersad, what a great post with the market, and temples. Love seeing your excellent photos and reading the descriptions. Looking forward to more from Kyoto.

    1. Thank you for visiting. Glad you enjoy them!

  6. A wonderful tour showing the temples, market, and beautiful scenery. Japan looks fantastic through your lens.

  7. Wow such wonderful photos. I am loving all the trees and the skies too :-D

  8. Oh yes, I enjoyed that, and you don't even know where to look first. There is so much to discover. Really great and basically one WOW is enough. It was certainly for sure also exhausting, but it was worth it. Thank you for sharing it with us and of course for all the beautiful T's you brought. Thanks for beeing with the T-Project.

    Wishing you a hopefully good start into the new week, I am sending greetings over to your place.

    Nova ­čî┤

    1. It's actually very overwhelming to see so much beauty in one place. You have to take it in over a few days actually.

  9. What a fabulous place. So much to see

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