There are 2,000 Temples and Shrines in Kyoto

Yep, that’s true and that’s also a bit discouraging, as I realize I can’t possibly visit each and every one while I’m here. Tough life :).

In Japan, the two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism coexist happily. Usually, the temples are Buddhist, and the shrines are Shintoist, with their architecture being quite similar.  There are a few elements that distinguishes them: at a Shinto shrine you enter through a torii gate (it’s often painted in bright orange) which marks the transition from the profane to the sacred, a pair of guardian dogs, or lions, or foxes sit at the entrance and there’s a purification stream near the entrance where people cleanse their mouth and hands before prayer. The Buddhist temples display images with Buddha, in their main hall there is always a huge incense burner whose smoke is believed to be healing and you can often see a pagoda close to the temple.

Up to now, I managed to visit around twenty something of them, so I have so far a list of my favorites. But I’m sure my preferences will evolve by the time we leave Kyoto.

Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) 

The golden image of the temple reflected in the serene pond is one of the famous images from Kyoto. The temple displays three distinct styles of architecture: palace style (first floor), samurai house (second floor) and zen (the third floor). The peaceful gardens are also a delight.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Is one of the most touristy temple in Kyoto, always packed with tour groups and school children. But it’s beautiful and you can have a peaceful walk down the  forest and just enjoy the silence. An incredible thing about this temple is that it was built without any nail, everything being held in place through impressive tall wood pillars.

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Fushimi-Inari

When I learned we’d gonna move to Japan, the image of Fushimi-Inari was the first thing I came across when I googled Kyoto. It was impressive in the pictures and it remains impressive in reality. There are thousands of bright orange torii gates that keep going up through the forest, into the mountain. For about one hour they keep you company on the quite steep way, until you reach the top of the mountain. During the night it gets even more beautiful, with the tourists gone and the gently lit torii gates, reflecting in the forest.

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Nanzen-ji

What I love about this Buddhist temple is the surroundings. It’s a good place to get away from the noise of the more touristic places and take a walk on the 19th century aqueduct you find within the temple complex.

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Shimogamo Shrine

Much like Nanzen-ji, Shimogamo is surrounded by a peaceful forest and it’s one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. When I first discovered it, I fell in love with the leafy road that leads to the shrine. Perfect for biking, running, reading, dreaming.

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Yoshida Shrine

Though probably this is not on the must-do list of the tourists, let’s say it’s my guilty pleasure :).Yoshida is a complex of small shrines that you discover one by one on the small hike that gets you on the top, oferring a nice view of Kyoto. Or you can just linger in the woods, with a book.

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Another Week, Another Festival

Yesterday we took our bikes and rode to Arashiyama, a beautiful part of Kyoto, well-known for its beautiful Bamboo forest.

Japan, Kyoto

Besides the nice ride and stroll through the forest, we took part as well at another festival in Kyoto, the Mifune Matsuri, the Boat Festival. May seems to be one of the busiest months in terms of festivals in Japan, or at least Kyoto. It all starts with a range of festivals during the Golden Week ( 1st-6th of May), it continues with the great Aoi festival, which gathers over 100.000 visitors and ends with the Boat Festival, every 3rd Sunday in May.

Arriving too late, we missed the beautiful scenes of the boats floating the river, carrying beautifully clad people, with their colorful garments from the Heian period (Images credits: Matsuri Times)

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But we found some interesting scenes happening on the ground as well. My favorite ones are the adorable kids, all dressed-up and anxious to take part in the festival and the nice costumes of men :).

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Cultural Experiences: Geishas

Almost any tourist visiting Kyoto is hoping to see real live geishas walking through the small streets of Gion, the most famous and exclusive geisha districts in Japan. The chances are rather slim: I read that nowadays there are only between 1,000 and 2,000 geishas left in Japan (down from almost 80,000 in the ’20s).

However most of the times you see exquisitely dressed geiko or maiko (apprentice geisha) surrounded by huge crowds and one or two professional photographs. These are fake geishas. A popular thing nowadays is to get dressed up as a maiko/geiko in a specialized dress-up parlor and live the experience for a day. Usually such a thing costs around 100$ so it’s kind of affordable for any tourist, therefore you see them quite often.

Yesterday as I was wandering down the streets of Gion, I bumped into two fake maiko. They seem to be mother and daughter and even if they are not the real thing, I still think they are beautifully dressed.

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