Tokyo and Kyoto, National Treasures

Tokyo and Kyoto, National Treasures

Travel Special: Japan (Post 2 of 3)

Above is one of Japan’s most cherished national treasures: Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple).  I kid you not, it is really that gorgeous.  I take all of the photos for this blog with my Pentax K30 except for the photos that say (Image)2 marketing.  Lauren VanNatta has taken those and her photography is awesome!  Unfortunately, my iPhoto software on my computer has been on the fritz so these photos are not enhanced and I have absolutely zero idea how to use Photoshop.  So here you have it in all of it’s glory: The Golden Temple.  Cool.

Kinkaju-ji Golden Temple Kyoto Japan
Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple Kyoto Japan with crane

It’s located in northern Kyoto and was originally the retirement home of the the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.  In 1408, according to his dying request it became a Zen temple.  Of all the fascinating things to see and do in Kyoto, this is ranked #2, and for good reason.  It’s spectacular.

Below is the Phoenix Hall of the Byodoin monastery built in 1052, located south of Kyoto.

Byodoin Monastery Phoenix Hall
Byodoin Monastery Phoenix Hall, South Kyoto

954 years old.  Dang, that’s old.  How do you get your mind around something like that?  I’m still trying to come to grips that Golden Temple was built 27 years before Christopher Columbus’ mother was born.  


Here’s our whole little traveling entourage in Kyoto.  Behind us is one of the many canals running through the city.  A huge part of Kyoto’s charm is due to the buildings in the old district are mostly in the older Japanese style and only two or three stories tall.  Prior to 1869, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the buildings up to that point were not allow to be built above the emperor’s palace.  

geisha street

Kyoto is the heart and soul of Japan’s geisha world.  Above are some of the apartments were they live.  In Kyoto, geisha is pronounced “gay-ko” and in Tokyo it is pronounced “gay-sha.”  They are honored musicians, artists, vocalists, and entertainers.  They are renowned for their skill in hospitality and grace, not illicit behavior. 

kyoto girls
Background: Darling girl dressed as a geisha; Foreground: Another beautiful girl dressed in traditional kimono. Vintage faux fur stoles have made a HUGE come back.

The girls above and below are not geisha, not even the girl above dressed as one.  She’s all dolled up maybe for her senior high school picture? Or something akin to our 1980’s Glamour Shots?  Regardless, it was very apparent her mother was helping her walk and true geisha are not touched.

No no no! Sign: No touching the Geisha, No loitering, No smoking... No Self-Stick!
No no no! Sign: No touching the Geisha, No loitering, No smoking… No Self-Stick!

The city of Kyoto has asked restaurants and vendors to give anyone in traditional dress a 10%-15% discount.  So lots of the young people come out on the weekends in their kimonos.  It is so much fun to see!!!  It’s kind of like if the whole town is dressed up for prom or homecoming.  Girls are all dressed up in their bright kimonos, snapping pictures of themselves, laughing, and yuckin’ it up.

kyoto girls

kyoto girls

kyoto girls

Below is Kiyomizu-dera (meaning pure water), it was built near a fresh spring and has more recent architecture.  Constructed in 1633, it was built without one single nail.  Unreal.  The Japanese saying “jump off the stage of Kiyomizu” is our equivalent to “take the plunge.”  This comes from the old belief that if you jumped off it (13 meters or approximately 42 feet) your wish would be granted.  Out of the 234 jumps that were recorded during the Edo period (1603-1868), 84.5% of the people survived.  Personally, I would like to know what percentage of the wishes came true.  Wishes or no wishes, common sense now prevails and there is no more jumping.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto


Almost as impressive as the national treasures, were the crowds.


Here we are at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, the vermilion torii gate walk, with 245,931 of our closest Kyoto friends.

fushimi-inari-taisha shrine
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, Kyoto

On days when it’s not quite as crowded, it is said that to walk the entire path takes between 2-3 hours.  We decided to take a rain check and go get ice cream.

green tea ice cream

Two more stops in Kyoto before I take you to Tokyo…

After visiting the Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple, I was expecting the Ginkaku-ji Temple, “Silver Pavilion,” to be a glorious metallic silver temple.  It wasn’t, but don’t think there was the least bit of disappointment.  Have you ever seen a 1000 years of undisturbed moss?  Yes, the sand sculptures defied gravity, but the moss! Holy cow!!!  These pictures barely scratch the surface of how magnificent and lush this place is.

Genkaku-ji Temple, Silver Pavilion
Genkaku-ji Temple, Silver Pavilion
Genkaku-ji Temple, Silver Pavilion
Moss gardens of the Genkaku-ji Temple, Silver Pavilion, Kyoto

This is a fairy land.  Look!… Is that Frodo back there?  Man, I love this camera.

Genkaku-ji Temple, Silver Pavilion

Genkaku-ji Temple gardens were spellbinding.  

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was serene.  It was really unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  It was tranquil and surreal.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Breath taking view from below of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
mount Fuiji
Mount Fuji from the high speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Back in Tokyo, on New Year’s Day we visited the Meiji Shrine with 498,982 of our closest Tokyo friends this time.  Here they are in front of us…

Crowds of the Meiji Shrine

And behind us…

Crowds of the Meiji Shrine

Generally I’m not one for crowds, but I do have to say this was fun.  Everyone was so polite, calm, and serene.  The Meiji Shrine is built in a 200 acre park of 1500 year old cypress at the end of an easy half mile walk.  You can stop at the cleansing station (we didn’t) to rinse your hands, take a mouth full of water, and then spit it out on the floor outside before you offer up your prayers.  

Meiji Shrine
Torii entrance of the Meiji Shrine, circa 1915

And our final stop before we headed to the airport was one last panoramic view of Tokyo from the 43rd floor of the Midtown Ritz Carlton…

Ritz Carton Tokyo

where we had a really good hamburger and Coke. (Sacrilege! I know, but we did it anyway.)

hamburger at the Ritz Tokyo

Next Post this Friday: Food Glorious Food! (Japan 3 of 3) 




1 thought on “Tokyo and Kyoto, National Treasures”

  • Mada,
    Your special tour of Japan was amazing. I know I lived there when a young school girl, about 3rd to 5th grade. I must have had a serious past life there, I love it so much. Your tale was informative and fun. I’m looking forward to the third chapter.
    Thank you for an enchanting stroll though the Land of the rising Sun.

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