Kyoto - The grace and formal traditions of Japan (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Kyoto
JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING the world knows of Japan—geisha, temples, and raked pebble Zen gardens—can be found in Kyoto, a city of exquisite Eastern architecture, landscape, and cultural tradition.
Kyoto was Japan’s capital for more than 1,000 years and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site with hundreds of temples and shrines.
One of the most famous is Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Temple, on the northwest periphery of Kyoto. Built in the 14th century as a villa for the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and partially gilded, it was later converted to a Zen temple. It burned in 1950, but was soon restored, and later sheathed with even more gold leafing. Set over a still pond that reflects its brilliance, the temple now houses sacred relics and can be a blinding spectacle on a sunny day. Kiyomizu-dera, the Temple of Pure Water, was built near a waterfall in 778. It is sublime during spring’s cherry blossom season and the maple foliage in fall, but it is crowded year-round. It is reached by strolling through the historic Higashiyama neighborhood, which has been selling souvenirs and refreshments to visitors for more than a millennium.
The temple complex includes a multilevel pagoda, and a grand terrace with views over the city and a gorge. At the waterfall itself, metal cups attached to poles allow visitors to sip from the cascade. Each stream offers a different blessing.
Across town lies another astonishing site, the Fushimi Inari Shrine to the god of rice. Here, a mountainside path passes under thousands of bright orange arches. The trails stretch for more than two miles (3 km), past hundreds of stone and bronze foxes, the animal that is said to be the messenger of Inari.
Other visitors seek solace at Sanjusangendo, a temple with 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The temple, stretching 394 feet (120 m), is Japan’s longest wooden building. On the western outskirts of Kyoto, thousands of towering bamboo stalks sway in the wind in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Some visitors ride bikes though the forest, while others take rickshaws or dress up as geisha for their visit. However they pass through, they find a place unique for its sounds and patterns of light and shadow.
Kyoto is also one of the few places in the world to see geisha, traditional hostesses trained in classic Japanese arts such as dancing and singing. Gion is the best known of several city districts where young women called maiko are apprenticed in the secretive lifestyle. And while spending an evening with a geisha can be difficult to arrange and expensive, many visitors head out at dusk to spot the elaborately dressed young women clacking by on wooden sandals as they head to appointments.