Thursday, August 23, 2007


We were on a real "Temple-palooza" one the day we saw Heian-Jingu, Nanzen-Ji and Shoren-In. We had also intended to check out Chion-In, which is the largest temple in Japan and also famous for a giant 74-ton bell that requires 17 monks to use it to ring in the New Year. Unfortunately, we go there about and hour and half before it closed and by the time we climbed the massive hill to reach it and finished with snack time and potty breaks, they were already ushering us out. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. We still got some nice pics though:

Compared to Tokyo, Kyoto definitely has more of an old-world, traditional feel to it. To me, it was almost too quiet and laid back, but I guess to others that's part of its appeal. I did enjoy strolling through city and seeing all of these temples, but there were too many to take in during a limited time.

It is said that Kyoto is the best place to see an authentic Geisha around town, but we didn't catch a glimpse of any. Still, there were plenty of women (and a few men) strolling the streets in traditional Japanese kimonos and I appreciated this brush with the country's ancient culture.

One of the worst jobs in Kyoto has to be "rickshaw driver." I would feel too guilty hiring one of these guys to drag me through the streets in the heat that we were experiencing (although I guess it beats walking).

As traditional as it is, Kyoto has many modern elements including their own version of a space needle:

Kyoto Station is where all the trains and buses come in and also home to a mall and many restaurants. Its design is ultra-modern and was somewhat controversial when it opened ten years ago (I thought it was pretty cool).

One final note: when traveling with kids (especially three of them), it's good to go to somewhere that has enough places that they'll want to eat at. Kyoto was pretty limited in this area. We dined at a few average Italian places at the Station and it was only on the last day that I noticed they had a McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks (not that we really wanted to eat there, but still). The only other familiar food-related face we saw around town was this smartly-dressed gentleman (who was kind enough to let us use his toilet).

All-in-all, Kyoto was a nice place to visit. At first it almost seemed anti-climatic, but now that I've had a chance to let the experience soak in for a few weeks I'm glad we found our way there.


Shoren-In is a pleasing temple which was a lot smaller in comparison to some of the others we saw. It was built in 1895 and was originally the home of the chief abbot of the Tendai School of Buddhism. One thing it had going for me was the opportunity to take pictures of the interior, which was home to some fine examples of traditional Japanese painting, decoration and sliding screens, many of which date back 300 to 400 years.

By the time we visited Shoren-In, I was beginning to understand that no trip to a temple or shrine in Kyoto would be complete without a stroll through a beautiful garden. Shoren-In did not disappoint in this area.

The garden also had a small bamboo forest, which is something I had never seen in person before, so that was interesting in and of itself.

Various statues also populated the compound...

Including this one with its left-facing swastika which has been a symbol of luck and good will in Buddhist and Hindu traditions long before Hitler and the Nazi Party appropriated the right-facing version of the symbol in 1920. Despite the fact that I know about its history, it is still somewhat shocking to see any version of a swastika in person (and they are very prevalent throughout Asia) because of the political and social associations it has in the Western world.


Nanzen-Ji was originally a retirement home for Emporer Kameyama in the 13th Century, but after his death in 1291 it was converted to a Zen temple, with the grounds also housing many smaller temples and lavish gardens. Over the years, many of the structures were destroyed during various wars, so the current buildings only date back to the 17th Century (as if that wasn't too long ago).

I think we've all heard the term "Zen Garden." Well, Nanzen-Ji's Leaping Tiger Garden was just that and made for a pleasant experience.

The main structure was a gigantic two-story temple called San-mon.

It offered some nice views of the complex and the areas around it.

Also at the top was shrine to Buddha. Photos were not allowed, but since no one was around, I just couldn't resist (shhhh...don't tell anyone).


Heian-Jingu is a striking shrine complex built in 1895 to celebrate Kyoto's 1100th anniversary. It is home to a series of bright orange buildings that are scaled-down reproductions of structures from the Heian period (794 to 1185). They were still pretty big, so the originals must have been massive.

One of the highlights of the complex was an elaborate garden and large pond. It was worth the extra admission to walk through and take some pretty pictures.

But no matter how many architectural masterpieces or things of beauty from the natural world are surrounding them, any kid is always going to be drawn to a pool of water to make a mess of things (piles of dirt and small pebbles rank pretty high in this department as well).

Several major events are held annually at Heian Jingu, which makes sense because it's a pretty impressive place.