Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kyoto: Zen gardens and Torii Gates.

There is so much to see in Kyoto and surrounds. Most people only spend a couple of days here, especially if time restricted by a Japan Rail Pass, but with a week to explore I reckoned I'd give it a run for its money. But nope, I hardly scratched the surface.

Day 2 saw me heading east from the hostel, crossing the river and exploring the temples and subtemples around Tofukuji Temple. This isn't high up on the must see list, so the crowds weren't huge. Admittedly, it's the wrong time of year, with peak season for tourists being cherry blossom time in Spring (late March) and autumn foliage times in October and November, but the main reason I'd come here were the Zen gardens. And boy did they deliver. The sub temple of Ryogin-An had 3 beautiful gardens, my particular favourite was the "Garden of Vanity", I think there's a lesson there somewhere...
The Garden of Vanity

The Dragon Garden

The Garden of the Inseparable

Tofukuji Temple had more than one garden though. It also had the Abbott's Hall, or Hojo, with its surrounding "Hasso" gardens incorporating the eight aspects of Buddha's life. It was beautiful, serene, and definitely a place for quiet contemplation.

On the way to Tofukuji I visited a number of other gardens and temples.


One place was a garden and shrine with a cemetery out the back. The gardens had lots of little statues of doll like figures, and there was even a little shrine full of doll effigies. Many of them had been dressed in little clothes, and there were toys scattered around as well. It appears that there is a custom here in Kyoto where older people have an ongoing attachment to a precious doll. The younger Japanese find these dolls scary so they don't want them, so rather than throw them away, the oldies give them away to one of the temples. This temple will take the cherished toys and each year they hold a ritual cremation. So a shrine like this is to remember your doll! (I only found out about this because a girl staying at my hostel had a book about strange customs in Kyoto, I tried googling it without success).  

One final small garden and temple, called Funda-In, had one of the oldest dry landscape gardens in Kyoto, designed in the 15th Century. It was a very relaxing spot, and just like the other gardens it was nice to sit on the cushions and just enjoy the beauty around me.

From the Tofukuji temple area I wandered south, along some nondescript streets, past a liquor store,

and a cigarette vending machine. How long would one of those last on the streets of an Australian city??

Not far from there I walked through some back lanes to find this

Fushimi-Inari Shrine is enormous, with paths leading to a number of shrines on the mountain, and all these paths are literally lined with Torii gates. It is a wonder to behold, but due to the crowds, it doesn't quite feel like you are passing from the profane to the divine.

So I joined the hordes climbing the mountain. There are lots of paths, there are main paths, and minor paths, small shrines, larger shrines.


Quite easy to get lost really. Not so nice when it starts to get dark.

So I backtracked and found my way back to the main path just as the sun was setting over Kyoto.

The shrine is open 24 hours, and even as I descended the mountain in the approaching evening, there were many others just beginning their climb. It really is a fascinating place and totally worth the effort.

There's even a train station at the base of the mountain, so after my long day of walking I took the train back north and went and found that gyoza place. The special was two different gyoza ( I had the usual pork one plus a leek gyoza) and salad and pickles, but I also had some fried garlic, and for dessert, chocolate gyoza. I think that meal kinda trumped the Sapporo gyoza crawl…


  1. that sunset photo is amazing - and actually each photo is wonderful - and the ending food (mmm) - and I have had baked garlic, but never the fried - all looks wonderful --

    safe travels to ya! <3

    1. thankyou whyvette. the deep fried garlic was a revelation to me too, but I think baked garlic is just as yummy, and much easier for the home cook. I'm going to try my hand at the chocolate gyoza though!