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Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji May 24, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji” complete with photos. http://wp.me/p2liAm-EH

 

There are two famous large temples located just within walking distance of Kyoto Station. These are Higashi and Nishi Honganji. They are both some of the largest temples I have visited in Japan and both are extremely important to Japan both culturally and historically. They are both free to the public and both are very similar in appearance. The first time I visited Kyoto was around 2006, and the second time I visited Kyoto was in 2009. Although the difference in time was only about 3 years, I can’t clearly distinguish the difference between the two temples. It can be very difficult, so visiting one temple only is not a big problem. If you are pressed for time, you don’t have to feel the pressure to visit both temples as you might be better off visiting only one of them and spending the extra time at another temple around Kyoto.

In 2009, I visited Nishi Hongaji. Nishi Honganji was recently renovated, so the entire temple grounds are remarkably beautiful. The approach to the temple from the station is somewhat bland. There is a long wall stretching along the entire complex with gates along the way. The gates themselves are very beautiful with typical Japanese temple designs. Upon entrance into the temple grounds, you will be amazed by the sheer size of the main hall and the open area. Unfortunately, like my visit to Kinkakuji earlier in the day, it was raining heavily when I visited which made things difficult. On the other side of the coin, the fact that there was almost no one around made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Entering the hall is free and the hall itself is very spiritual. It’s hard to explain but whenever I enter a Japanese temple, I always feel a type of calm. Even with the rain and humidity, I felt very relaxed. The entire area may look and feel like a typical Japanese temple, but the atmosphere is the most important aspect of any temple visit. I can’t imagine a teenager visiting any temple and having the same feeling that I had but I hope they will. One of the more interesting aspects of the hall is the windows or rather wooden panels. There are large wooden panels that line the sides of the main hall that allow more light and air into the hall. These are huge panels that hinge upwards. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see these in use. The other interesting piece is the lights. There are several gold covered lamps located around the outer walk of the hall. From afar, they don’t look very unique or interesting but when you see them from underneath, you can see the detail of a dragon that has been sculpted into the bottom. It is not unique to Nishi Honganji, but it is still a very beautiful thing to see. When you are finished, you can always head to the adjacent office and relax a little.

Higshi Honganji is the younger sibling of Nishi Hongaji. They are both different sects of Buddhism that have splintered away from each other. You can think of this as akin to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. They are similar yet different religions. Higashi Hongaji was built 11 years after Nishi Hongaji and replicates the look and feel of Nishi Honganji. The main difference is that Higash Honganji is actually bigger than Nishi Honganji and there is a gold alter located inside Higashi Hongaji. Otherwise, it can be difficult to discern the difference between both temples. Both temples used to be in the same sect of Buddhism but due to political pressure, the temples were split up leading to the construction of Higashi Honganji. As I mentioned above, visiting one of the two temples is enough for a visit to Kyoto. While Higashi Honganji may be closer to the station, Nishi Honganji shouldn’t be overlooked either. If you take a bus, you can always stop at Nishi Honganji on the way to another location. Be sure to plan ahead and you can see a lot more.

Honganji Information:

Honganji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3920.html
Honganji (Wapedia):  http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/nishi_higashi_honganji.shtml
Honganji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongan-ji
Nishi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishi_Honganji
Higashi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higashi_Honganji

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Kyoto – Maruyama Park May 10, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Maruyama Park” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EK

 

One of my favourite memories of Kyoto is on my first trip to Kyoto. I walked along the entire east side of Kyoto from Kyoto Station all the way to Ginkakuji. For anyone who has ever visited Kyoto and looked at that area, they probably won’t believe me when I say I walked all of that and walked almost all the way back to Kyoto Station as well. I didn’t have any real idea as to what each area was about, and my Japanese was no where near good enough to navigate around town smoothly. Now, I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience that I don’t regret doing and I would do it all over again if I had to. Walking around Kyoto was a great experience that allowed me to see a lot of Kyoto, although I don’t necessarily remember everything. One of the best memories I had on that walkabout was my visit to Maruyama Park and heading up a nearby mountain to a small shrine.

Maruyama Park is a small park that is either left off the guide books or barely mentioned. It is famous at one time of the year, the cherry blossom season. Most of the park is covered in cherry trees making this the place to be during the cherry blossom season. It is difficult to find a place, or so I’ve been told, to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. When I visited, I was about 1-2 weeks too early to enjoy the cherry blossoms. One or two trees had buds on them, but that was about it. The park itself is quite easy to navigate and without much foliage to enjoy I finished walking the park in about 15 minutes. I enjoyed the small pond of water that flowed through much of the park and found it interesting to see piles of neatly folded blue tarps near the trees. Little did I know that when the cherry trees started to blossom, the park workers would unfold these blue tarps and create a space for people to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. At night, much of the park would be lit up and hundreds, if not thousands of people would be there to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the company of each other, and of course the beer and alcohol.

The main reason I enjoyed this park wasn’t so much the park itself. It was the small mountain and “secret” shrine that I found above the park. If you head to east through the park, you will start to head up a small steep hill. You will then find a small shrine in the corner of the park. I believe it was the north east corner of the park. From there, you will find a small path that starts to lead into the woods and up the mountain. I remember it as being near a set of washrooms, but I don’t know how helpful that would be for someone looking for the path. I headed up the path with a friend of mine not knowing what we would find. Little did I know, we would have one of the best adventures of the entire trip. It wasn’t an easy walk as we were walking up a small mountain. I was surprised to see small altars, or graves along the path. I believe they were altars. There were several small Buddhist statues on each one and they have been there for years, if not decades. The faces of many of the statues had been worn off by the rain and wind. There were altars at nearly every corner of the dirt path. It took a while before we made it to the top and we considered turning back a couple of times. The one good thing was that we didn’t give up. We continued until we reached a small garden/temple at the top. This temple was really nice but I was surprised to find that we had to pay to enter and see Kyoto from a viewing platform. We decided not to pay and just relaxed at the top for a bit before heading back down the way we came. We had the options to take a small road down from the temple but we had no idea where it went, so the prudent thing was to head back the way we came. I do regret that we didn’t enter the temple, but the memory of hiking up that small mountain will remain in my mind forever.

As I mentioned, we walked all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji. It was a full day walk from 9 am till 9 pm. We had a tough time, physically, going around and seeing everything. When you are on a budget of $0, you’d be surprised at how willing you are to just walk around. Renting a bicycle would have been better but at the same time it wouldn’t. Walking allows you to just take your time and wander around to wherever you want to go. Many times, I prefer to just choose an area and just walk in one direction and wander in a direction that interests me. On this trip, I was lucky enough to see a couple of geisha/maiko around a pagoda as well, but whether they were true maiko or not, I had no idea. In Kyoto, it is fairly common to see “fake” maiko. These are tourists who get dressed up in a costume shop and spend a few hours walking around as a “geisha” or “maiko”. You never really know who is a true maiko or not, but if I had been on a bus or riding a bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to discover such amazing things. I highly recommend this walking tour, but do be aware that it isn’t easy and requires a full day to do it.

Maruyama Park Information:

Maruyama Park (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruyama_Park
Maruyama Park (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3925.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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