Today we head to Kyōto.
Kyōto is a city in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Kyoto–Osaka–Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto has always been praised for its history and compact city solutions such as its own subway system.
Kyōto was the capital of Japan for over a millennium, and carries a reputation as its most beautiful city.
Most first impressions of the city will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station, which is itself an example of a city steeped in tradition colliding with the modern world.
Nonetheless, the persistent visitor will soon discover Kyoto’s hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city center, and find that the city has much more to offer than immediately meets the eye.
The gateway to Kyōto.
Kyōto Station is the most important transportation hub in Kyoto, Japan. It has Japan’s second-largest train station building (after Nagoya Station) and is one of the country’s largest buildings, incorporating a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, Isetan department store, and several local government facilities under one 15-story roof. It also housed the Kyoto City Air Terminal until recently.
The Kyoto Station building was constructed on the 1200th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto. It was opened to the public in 1997 and stands in perfect contrast to pepples’ image of Kyoto as the capital of traditional Japan. It is 70 meters high and 470 meters from east to west, with a total floor area of 238,000 square meters.
Architecturally, it exhibits many characteristics of futurism, with a slightly irregular cubic facade of plate glass over a steel frame.
The building’s futuristic design and atmosphere was conceived by the Japanese architect Hara Hiroshi. Hara’s design attempts to convey historical Kyoto through a modern aesthetic. The station’s large main hall with its exposed steel beamed roof, called the Matrix, is meant to reflect both the structure of the station and the grid like layout of Kyoto’s street network. Besides Kyoto Station, Hara’s works include the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka.
The station’s completion began a wave of new high-rise developments in the city that culminated in the 20-story Kyocera Building.
Aside from the main building on the north side of the station, the Hachijō-guchi building on the south side was built to house Tōkaidō Shinkansen which started operation in 1964.
The underground facilities of the station, including the shopping mall Porta beneath the station square, was constructed when the subway opened in 1981.
There are two sides to Kyoto Station: Karasuma and Hachijo. The busier Karasuma side to the north faces downtown and is named after the main street leading downtown. The main bus terminal is located on the Karasuma side, as are many hotels, shops and Kyoto Tower. The calmer Hachijo side to the south provides access to a few more hotels, Toji Temple and some more highway bus stops.
The expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is perhaps the most beloved of Kyoto’s temples and is a fixture in the minds of the Japanese people. The temple’s veranda juts out of the side of a mountain supported by 13-meter-high wooden columns.
The main hall with its distinctive hip-shaped roof of cypress bark rests to the rear of the veranda and houses within it a priceless statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. From the veranda, one can appreciate fine views facing west over the city of Kyoto. This is an auspicious place to watch the sunset, which may also explain the romantic associations accorded to the temple.
Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965.
Kiyomizudera is well known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. Successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.
The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life.
However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.
Other structures on the spacious temple grounds include the Okunoin Hall, which resembles the main hall on a smaller scale and has also a stage. Near the Okunoin are halls dedicated to Shaka Buddha which is known as the historical Buddha and Amida Buddha, as well as a small hall with nearly 200 stone statues of Jizo, the protector of children and travelers.
The three-storied Koyasu Pagoda stands among the trees in the far southern end of the temple grounds, and a visit is said to bring about an easy and safe childbirth.
Around the entrance of Kiyomizudera, stand various other temple buildings, including a vermilion three storied pagoda, a repository for sutras, large entrance gates and the Zuigudo Hall which is dedicated to Buddha’s mother and where you can wander the pitch black basement that symbolizes a mother’s womb.
Part of the fun of visiting Kiyomizudera is the approach to the temple along the steep and busy lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama District.
The many shops and restaurants in the area have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries, and products on sale range from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs.
The Higashiyama district together with Kiyomizudera, Yasaka Shrine and other temples in the area, have special evening illuminations during the annual Hanatoro event held in mid March. Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the autumn leaf season in the second half of November.
The temple is very popular with visitors and has something of a festival atmosphere. Vendors abound who sell talismans, incense, and “omikuji”.
Serious pilgrims come to pray, young people come looking for good fortune in love, visitors come to see the sights, and all fall under the spell of Kyoto’s timeless temple.
More pictures of Kyoto here, enjoy!!
More of Kyōto
will be covered again in another post! Stay tuned!