Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Walk In Higashiyama

--Susan, Every Other Sunday

Kyoto has eleven wards--essentially, smaller "cities" within the metropolis of Japan's former capital. Each has a distinctive character and history, and unless you have weeks to spend in Kyoto, it's virtually impossible to see them all.

Last November, I paid my first visit to Higashiyama-ku (just "Higashiyama" works as well), a mountainous ward on the Eastern side of Kyoto that's home to numerous temples, shrines, and historical sites.

A view of Kyoto from the steps of Kiyomizu-dera. 

Although it's impossible to see everything in a single day, I started early and managed quite a bit in the eleven hours and twelve walking miles that followed.

Here are the highlights.

I left Kyoto Station by bus, disembarking near 1200 year-old Kiyomizu-dera,

The current pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera dates to the 17th century.

a Buddhist temple named for the sacred waterfall on its grounds. Visitors scoop water from the falls, which allegedly has wish-granting properties. The temple is sacred to the Bodhisattva Kannon, goddess of mercy:

This small shrine on the temple grounds is dedicated to stillborn and aborted children.

Kannon is also represented on the temple grounds as Senryuu, the dragon who guards Kyoto:

Kannon: merciful ... to a point.

I could have spent all day there, but with only one day in Kyoto (due to research plans in other cities), I left the temple and strolled through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, a pair of preserved historical streets on the edge of Gion.

Sannen-zaka: three hundred years back in time.

Shops, teahouses, and restaurants line the hilly streets - and if you step off the beaten path, you can find even older teahouses and gardens:

Preserved teahouse and garden, Sannen-zaka.
You can also find some amazing treats:

Custard cream puff from ninen-zaka. The line was out the door, and it was totally worth the wait.  
At one end of the street, the distinctive spire of Yasaka-no-Ho pagoda rises into the sky. The pagoda has burned 4 times since its original construction. The current version dates to 1440:

I wish I could look this good at 500 years old.

After exploring Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, I visited Ryozen Kannon Memorial, a shrine to the unknown soldiers and civilians who perished during "the war in the Pacific" - World War II.

A lovely memorial to a horrific war.
The statue of Kannon is 80' high, weighs over 500 tons, and sits in meditation atop a worship hall. After leaving a stick of incense in the burner, and a prayer that someday the world's people will finally stop fighting and learn peace, I continued on my walk -- a short one, because the Zen Buddhist temple of Kodaiji stands right next door to the Kannon Memorial:

The Zen meditation garden at Kodaiji.
Kodai-ji is lovely, particularly in autumn when the leaves of the maple trees blaze with fire. The grounds are large, and I could have spent all afternoon there, too, particularly in the lovely bamboo grove that featured an unexpected view of the Kannon memorial:

Those "trunks" on either side are actually giant bamboo canes.
The (bamboo) woods were lovely, dark, and deep, but I had schedules to keep, and miles to go before I sleep ... and so, I continued on my way. After a stroll through a nearby park, I found myself at Chion-in, headquarters of the Jōdō-shū (Pure Land) school of Buddhism in Japan.

The San-mon: originally built in 1234. This version dates to the 17th century.
The grounds of Chion-in stretch up the side of a mountain - a significant walk for a person on the ninth mile of her day, and I admit I almost passed on the climb, but the magnificent buildings at the top (including this beautiful pagoda) made me glad I persisted:

Lotuses in front, pines behind - hard to imagine a better place to meditate.
And the day wasn't finished yet.

I walked back through the park to Yasaka Jinja, a Shintō shrine constructed in 656 and the place where the famous Gion Matsuri festival originated.

One of the many shrines at Yasaka Jinja.
Ironically, my walking path led me into the shrine through a back entrance and concluded at the shrine's front gate, where I encountered a lovely pair of guardian lions.

Keeping watch for hundreds of years would leave me a little cross-eyed too.
I have a fondness for these statues, and photograph them everywhere I go in Japan.

From there, I walked a mile and a half to the subway line I wanted (more direct, and faster, than the bus at that time of day) and enjoyed a fantastic tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) dinner at TONKATSU KSK restaurant in Kyoto station.

A long (like this post...) but thoroughly enjoyable day. If you find yourself with a day to spend in Kyoto, head for Highashiyama (and be sure to pack your walking shoes).


  1. Wow, again, Susan. Gorgeous. My experience of Japan's wonders has been limited to glimpses stolen during business trips. Thanks for taking me there.

    1. I'm delighted to have the chance to take you with me - and I hope someday I can REALLY take you with me. I'd love to travel Japan with you "for reals."

  2. My little hoarse must think it shout thank you for such a sunny post for those of us all frosty here in the Northeast US.