May 5th, 2009

drinking bird


This is my third visit to Kyoto, and unfortunately very short this time, just one afternoon and two days.

The first afternoon we went walking around Gion, one of the largest geisha areas and the most famous one.  There is a whiff of the past there, with old houses and alley ways. Occasionally you get a glimpse of a geisha.

I titled this "geisha", but I actually think (from her hair ornaments) that it might be a maiko (apprentice geisha).

We went to the Miyako Odori. This means dance festival of the capital. Miyako means capital and people used to call Kyoto just Miyako. When it lost its status in favor of Tokyo at the end of the 19th cent., this festival was started, to keep some of Kyoto's luster. It is a series of dances and scenes from Kabuki plays presented by the geishas and maikos.

The last dance at the Odori

I liked the Odori this year rather better than last year's. The costumes are always breathtaking, and the dances lovely, but this year the play scenes were more interesting, also easier to understand for those of us ignorant of old theatrical Japanese.

The next day I went on my own by train to visit Arashiyama, a western area of Kyoto, really more a suburb. It is a very quiet, charming old place, with old houses and of course gardens. I had lunch in a tiny restaurant. They placed me at a table overlooking a small courtyard where orchids were blooming. Almost too pretty for zaru soba!

Then I went by taxi to Saiho-ji, also known as Koke-dera (the moss temple). The place is renowned for its several centuries old garden covered in mosses (100+ varieties). You have to write about 2 months ahead, indicating the date of your visit to ask for permission. They answer giving you the time at which you will be admitted. I was armed with my permit and presented it. I was welcomed in, asked for 3,000 yen, and then ushered with the chosen few to a temple room where we copied sutras for a short while. A monk came and gave a prayer, someone hit a gong, then we were finally let loose in the garden. Well, it was worth jumping through a few hoops!

That place is remarkable. It is not just its many ponds and little mossy bridges and beautiful trees. It is an undefinable atmosphere of serenity and beauty, to which photos do not do justice. But here is one anyway:

If you have a keen eyesight, you can distinguish a reddish blur in the upper right corner of the pond: a group of large koi.

I returned to the Kyoto station just early enough to go visit Sanjusangendo (the 30 pillars temple). Michelle mentioned it in her January trip report on There are 1000 Kannon statues there, which I found rather boring. However, I liked very much the statues of fierce deities (Kamakura period) which are also displayed. One of them in particular reminded me very much of Matsudeira Ken (Benkei to Takki's Yoshitsune in the taiga drama). It grimaced just the same way! The garden is pretty, if small.

Sanjusangendo, glimpse of the garden

The next day was my long awaited visit of Kurama-dera. So I will devote a separate entry to it.


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