Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kansai, Ojamashimasu [Part 3]

3 Locations In 3 Days
Day 3: Kyoto
          You can't fully understand how culturally significant Kyoto is to Japan until you have seen it for yourself. The city is full of the old temples, classic artisan shops, and historic natural sites that we envision when we daydream about traditional Japan. But I always suspected that the real thing would not be as majestic as it appeared in my imagination. Well, guess what? I have been proven wrong. 
          Out of the city's 2000-something religious sites, there are two particularly outstanding ones that you must make sure to journey to and through: Fushimi Inari-taisha and Kiyomizu-dera.  
           I'm almost certain you recognize the photo above from Hollywood and travel ads. (The photo however is mine.) This iconic gateway that leads up to a Shinto temple is actually composed of many individual gate frames, each bearing the name of the business which donated it. I found this enchanting on so many levels. Besides raw aesthetics, this monument makes such a vivid statement about the belief in earning fortune and well-being. After that, I had to get over how systematic and cooperative the centuries-old custom of donating a uniform gate frame is. It says a lot about Japanese culture. And then there's the reality that this gateway has been growing longer over the years, and that walking through it is basically like walking through time... Just an absolutely stunning experience.

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           Kiyomizu-dera - to the best of my translating abilities - means temple of pure water. It's a Buddhist temple known for how and where it is built... Kiyomizu-dera stands on the edge of Otowa Mountain, on some pretty complex stilts. There are no nails in the entire structure; rather, genius Japanese architects of the 8th century crafted large wooden beams to fit into each other perfectly. Sorta like legos.
           Among Japanese people, there is a common expression: "leaping off the edge of Kiyomizu" 
(kiyomizu no butai kara tobi oriru), which I believe is equivalent to "taking the plunge" or "taking the great leap of faith". I challenge you to use the expression. ;]
[photo by my friend, Oye Jarusilawong]
        Kiyomizu not only attracts foreigners, but Japanese people as well. Confirmed by my mother, it is custom for Japanese school students to take a class trip to Kiyomizu to receive blessings for their education. One of the ways you get your blessing is by drinking sacred water. I sat on some cool moss-covered rock and watched junior-high students line up and take their turns at catching the sacred water in long wooden ladles. In my opinion, you can appreciate the beauty of the ritual no matter what your religion is. 
Bought this orange umbrella on a whim that sunny day.

        The fun part about visiting Kiyomizu-dera is that the uphill path up to the legendary temple is flanked by two seemingly endless rows of homey novelty shops. TIP: do your best to ignore the shops while going up to the temple; enjoy every bit of them on your way down. And look for a totoro. It'll lead you to an inner cove of Ghibli.

Stopped by Kyoto Station for lunch before heading to the final stop in our adventure... 

        The last stop: Arashiyama ("Storm Mountain"), a peaceful, scenic district in Kyoto that contains the Sagano bamboo forest (among other notable natural sites). Strolling through the bamboo forest is a suspended moment too beautiful for words to accurately portray. You are surrounded by tall shoots that seem to penetrate the blinding sky and have no end. The only sounds you hear are subtle chirpings of crickets and birds and the silent awes from you and fellow travelers.  Your eyes can't escape the purest greenery that you thought had gone extinct by this century. It was another dimension that I wished I could have lingered in a little while longer.
You can opt for this too.
"Arigatou gozaimasu" (Thank you.)
Forest nymph.
Man in the forest who makes postcards.

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