A day in Kyoto – Shrine visits

Greetings from 34000 feet above above the Pacific Ocean! Please excuse the poor quality of the picture, the built in camera on my netbook can only do so much in such low light!

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It has been an awesome trip culminating in an eventful side trip into Kyoto. With Saturday being the only full day we had in the historic capital of Japan, we set to work visiting several shrines in the area. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is most famous for it’s numerous gates along the walkway built into the mountain.

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Since schools are in session on Saturday in Japan, we ran into several large groups of students out on school trips. The main street leading up to the main entrance was crowded with locals and students. Compared to some of the other places we visited that day, there were far fewer tourists in the area. First though, a quick stop for some breakfast at a small restaurant along the way.

Since we’d be visiting the shrine paying homage to the fox god, we thought it would be fitting to have some of his favorite foods. First it was some kitsune udon followed by some inari sushi. Both “kitsune” and “inari” are Japanese words for fox, so they are both fitting for this occasion. ^.^

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Everything was delicious and will serve us well as fuel for the climb up the hill. Little did we realize how much we’d actually need the energy, as it was quite the hike up to the top… The entrance at the lower temple was guarded by several fox statues, each with it’s own character and charm.

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As expected, the construction and scenery were beautiful and everything about the place was worth admiring. The base of the temple was littered with small shops selling charms, statues, and local treats. There were also a couple places to make offerings to the different gods that take refuge here. We only loitered here briefly and started our journey into the heart of the shrine.

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We approached the first gates and quickly realized the pure massive scale of the shrine. The gates went on endlessly and lined the path to the top. In a few places, they even split into several paths. Which to choose?

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We continued to climb for what felt like hours, stopping several places along the way to pay our respects. We passed by several little cafes that offered simple snacks and drinks for tired hikers. In addition, many sold packs of food that could be used as offerings for the gods. It was pretty clear that their benches were only open for paying customers, as they were quick to point out.

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Fortunately for us, we had bought refreshments to bring with us at the bottom, and we were keen to keep moving. In addition to the climb being relentless, I also discovered that the mosquitoes there had a taste for American style Chinese food. Almost as soon as I got to the shrine, I was bitten several times. By the end of the day, I’m sure I fed over two dozen hungry bloodsuckers.

In addition to the numerous gates, there were also a lot of other things to look at. At one stopping point, we came across some cats and a pair of kittens. Kawaii-nya!

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There was also quite a bit to see in terms of statues and fountains. These fountains are used as a source of holy water that can be used to clean your hands prior to entering the shrine and making offerings to the gods. This one was one of my favorites.

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Once at the top, we realized that all our efforts were completely worth it. We were awarded one of the best views of Kyoto, as well as a realization as to how far up we’d actually climbed. The red circle shows the main entrance that we came through.

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The way down was just as interesting, as we decided to take another path. From where we were standing, there was a small service road used by the shrine’s staff to ferry supplies to the top. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but that too proved a difficult walk. Several points on the way down were greater than a 30 degree incline and some places approached 45 degrees. It was like I was back in school, going up and down Libe Slope…

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Once down, it was time for the next shrine. Kiyomizu temple was our next stop, which is built into the side of a hill. This meant even more impressive views and even larger crowds. The main street leading up to the gate was extremely crowded, and it was hard to keep from getting lost in the sea of people. Lots of shops lined the street, from souvenirs to sweets.

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A couple of things jump out about this particular temple that attract tons of tourists. First of all, the views from the temple are extremely impressive. The whole structure is built on stilts into the hillside and is completely free of nails or other metal. While this could be a bit disturbing for some, I think it’s an excellent piece of engineering.

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Secondly, there is a huge number of gods represented at the various shrines here. The most notable ones are the ones representing longevity and love. There’s no surprise that the majority of the visitors here are single women seeking good fortune and divine guidance in finding that special someone…

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Another popular attraction at the temple is the holy spring. There are three fountains for visitors to drink from. Each is believed to bestow a different effect: Long life and good health, success, and fortune in love. Maybe it was a bit greedy of me to drink from all three? ^.^;;

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With my fortune boosted, it was time we got on to our last stop of the day: Kinkakuji Temple. As it was getting late in the day, we had to hurry to make it there before the gates closed. We made it with minutes to spare and were allowed to tour the grounds. The main draw at Kinkakuji was the spectacular Golden Temple build in the middle of a reflecting pond.

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After the temple closed, we decided to call it a day. We’d done a ton of walking and were all pretty sore and full of beautiful images. We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and got ready for dinner. We had reservations at a nice sit-down tofu restaurant.

For now though, it’s time for me to sit back and relax a bit on this flight. Our current course has us at Newark in about 8 hours, at which point I’ll check for some free wireless to actually upload this post. If not, it’ll have to wait until I’m home in Charlotte.

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