Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kyoto the Trip! Part 1 - Tofukuji and Sanjusangendo

Ena and I just got back from a 4 day trip to Kyoto, the city with 2,000 shrines and temples and a bunch of other stuff. We had a great time. 4 days is perfect for Kyoto - long enough to see and do a lot of stuff but not long enough to get bored by it all. We were genuinely sad to leave at the end, the sure sign of a good holiday.

I think I've been to Kyoto about 10 times and Ena lived there for a brief period, so we were both pretty familiar with the city already. The last time we were there was in 2004, just a few months before we left Japan so I could go to law school. We were pretty bummed (and scared) at the prospect of leaving Japan at that time and made a promise to each other that it wouldn't be the last time we visited Kyoto together. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but we were finally able to make good on that promise.

The first day we arrived at about 7:30AM at Kyoto Station, having taken a night bus from Fukuoka. We were exhausted but excited and hit the road right away. Our first stop was Tofukuji temple.

We had never been there before, but its a really nice one which I highly recommend to Kyoto visitors. The approach leads you through a quiet neighborhood with attractive gardens and architecture on both sides. Then you arrive at a little wooden pedestrian bridge which provides a sweeping panoramic view of the temple grounds:
Unfortunately we visited about a week or so too early as the leaves on the maple trees hadn't opened yet. By the end of this month, the view there would be perfect.

The temple grounds are spacious. After entering you are faced with numerous large halls in the precincts to the right:
And the snaking, covered wood corridors leading through the garden to the left:
The corridor takes you to the Kaisando hall perched on a secluded little hill top. Its an interesting piece of architecture:
The structure forms a 3-sided courtyard, with the hills making up the fourth "wall". One side has an immaculately raked pebble garden in a checkered pattern:
And the other a more conventional Japanese garden:
Leaving the Kaisando, the route takes you down a path into the valley with the maple trees, from which you get a good view of the supports holding up the wooden corridors:
After that you can wander the grounds with the main hall and other large temple buildings. The Sanmon gate is very impressive:
Satisfied that we had seen everything Tofukuji had to offer, we then set out for our next destination: Sanjusangendo.

Sanjusangendo is one of Kyoto's more famous temples. It is basically a very long hall (120 metres) built in the 12th century whose claim to fame is that it contains 1001 statues of a Buddhist deity:
Photography in the hall is prohibited so I don't have any pictures of them, but I can assure you that it is a lot of statues.

This was our first time to visit the Sanjusangendo, and I have to say that it didn't live up to the hype. Its hard to get excited about looking at 1,001 copies of anything, and that is pretty much all the temple has to offer. I'm more of a "temples with pretty gardens that make for a nice stroll" kind of guy. Sanjusangendo has a tiny little garden, but you can walk through it in about 60 seconds:
I have to stop taking couple shots that expose my double chin like this:
It also doesn't help Sanjusangendo's case in my books that the entranceway is one giant sheet of asphalt:
Not very inspiring.

Anyway, that was our first morning in Kyoto. Our trip continues in the next post.

Related Posts:
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 1 - Tofukuji and Sanjusangendo
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 2 - Kiyomizu Temple and Maruyama Koen
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 3 - Ryoanji and Ninnaji
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 4 - Shopping Arcades by Night
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 5 - Antiquing Kyoto Style
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 6 - Cute Buddhist Statues
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 7 - Ohara and the Wrath of Mount Hiei
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 8 - Kyoto Station vs. Kyoto Tower

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