Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Unlike the popular “National Treasure” movie series, I wasn’t solving super enigmas, running from bandits, or dodging bullets amid a quest for discovering hidden secrets among Japan’s very own National Treasures; I was instead searching throughout Kyoto for things that would stimulate my mind and warm my soul. The government of Japan designates the most famous of its nation’s cultural properties as National Treasures of Japan and I had a grand time biking around town from treasure to treasure discovering their beauty and uniqueness, which I believe served as their own innate treasure.
The site of Kinkaku-ji history dates back to 1397 A.D. when the villa was purchased by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. The temple itself is somewhat small and simple, but the superb scenic image it created all together with the shining gold temple, beautiful sky, thriving trees, and still lake reflection, fostered an emphatic “WOW!”
From here I biked it up the road to Ryoanji Temple where one of the most famous Zen Gardens in all of Japan is located. Everyday hoards of people flock to this national treasure in order to discover if they can unlock its secret and attain enlightenment.
The Zen Garden at Ryoanji Temple has been thought to been built in the late 15th century. The garden consists of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders, which are placed so that when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that one may attain enlightenment when he/she can view the fifteenth boulder. I sat and then paced back-and-forth for a few moments to see if it was possible without trespassing, but to no avail. No enlightenment for me I suppose. Researchers have also proposed that “the implicit structure of the garden is designed to appeal to the viewers unconscious visual sensitivity to axial-symmetry skeletons of stimulus shapes.” In support of their findings, they found that “imposing a random perturbation of the locations of individual rock features destroyed its special characteristics.” Quite interesting indeed.
From here I endured a long bike trek to Sagano Bamboo Forest where I not only saw the largest conglomeration of bamboo trees I’ve ever seen, but where I also found a secret place to sit alone for over an hour and enjoy quite a pleasant view of the Oi River from above that I will surely never forget.
After apparently trespassing because I neglected to understand Japanese, I hiked up to a spot overlooking the Oi River and was given a pleasant surprise.
The subtle sounds of winds rushing through the valley combined with enchanting melodies coming from a japanese shakuhachi flute from afar made it an ideal spot to relax, reflect, pray, and clear my mind. I will never forget this place.
From Arashiyama I headed back into town and stopped at a random japanese sushi restaurant to quell and gratify my yearning for simple, great-tasting sushi; I was not let down.
Energized and ready to hit the road again, I biked to the nearby Higashi-Honganji Temple eager to see and learn about the “largest wooden structure in the world.” Rebuilt in 1895, it’s structural dimensions are: width-76 meters, depth-58 meters, and height-38 meters, in addition to having 175,000 roof tiles, 927 floor mats, and 90 wooden pillars. WOW!
The Higashi-Honganji Temple was pretty cool, but the only downside was that it’s surrounded by modern buildings and busy streets stifling its overall aesthetic. From there, I biked south and visited one of my favorite spots in Kyoto: Toji Temple.
The 5-story Toji Temple dates back to 796 A.D, stands at 54.6 meters high, and is the tallest wooden temple in Japan. This pagoda has been, and continues to be, the symbol of Kyoto and a renowned national treasure.
Shortly after visiting the Toji Temple, I biked to the Fushimi Shrine and walked through the famous archways along the mountainside called Inari, named after the god of rice.
Then during my last day, after writing almost a dozen postcards, relaxing, and doing a little shopping, I headed to another Italian restaurant that had caught my eye during my first morning in Kyoto.
I had an awesome lunch and it was here that I met a very beautiful and friendly waitress by the name of A-sa, who had just returned from studying at Florida University for a year and half. We had a few pleasant conversations, and after she ascertained that it was my last afternoon in Kyoto, she then recommended that I should visit her favorite temple in all of Kyoto; I soon gave her my word I would. Thus, after packing my bags and saying my farewell to Yashi and his wife at IchiEnSou hostel, in addition giving my word to them that I’d return during the same time in 2012, I set off towards the Kyoto Train Station with the plan to stop off at A-sa’s favorite temple in Kyoto: Sanjusangen-do.
Sanjusangen-do was not the most aesthetic or awe-inspiring temple I had seen, but it was indeed the most bizarre site I had visited in all of Kyoto and indeed one I will definitely remember.
Housed at the temple are one thousand life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon which stand on both the right and left sides of the main statue in 10 rows and 50 columns. Of these, 124 statues are from the original temple, rescued from a large fire in 1249, while the remaining 876 statues were constructed in the 13th century. Around the 1000 Kannon statues stand 28 statues of guardian deities, in addition to two famous statues of the deities of Fujin and Raijin.
Many of these statues were quite bizarre, and also a bit frightening; I literally caught myself starring strangely at some them for quite a while. Even though these statues were considerably different from all I have seen in Japan, and even India, it was an interesting sight to see that made the temple stand out from the rest in its own particular way and I can understand why A-sa had recommended checking it out.
Even though I was able to see and experience much more than most during my 4 1/2 days in Kyoto, I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. There are so many national treasures in Kyoto, and I feel it’s one of those rare, supremely interesting cities in the world that every traveler should visit at least once, although twice or three times wouldn’t hurt. Japan is also quite different from Korea, which was a bit of a shock to me. I was expecting things to be fairly similar, but they weren’t. I will discuss certain things on a later occasion, but I had more of a culture shock coming back to Korea from Japan than when I came back from India. Quite weird I know, but I believe it’s from the fact that I knew and prepared myself for India being very different, whereas I presumably thought Japan would be very similar, when in fact it wasn’t.
My plan is to return to Kyoto in September of 2012 during the same “Chuseok” (aka. “Korean Thanksgiving”) holiday and experience more of what Kyoto has to offer. It’s a wonderful, friendly, and aesthetic city that significantly surprised me with all its beauty, solace, and mystique found at almost every corner. Until next year…