After my time in Kawasaki, I traveled to Kyoto for a few days. I spent time in Gion, which is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Gion is located near Shijo Avenue and I found numerous shops, restaurants, and teahouses in the area. Each merchant shop on the street is only five to six meters wide, but they extend up to twenty meters in length. This means that each one is long and narrow, and let me tell you, it is an interesting way to shop and look at things. While on Shijo Avenue, I found local products that included crafts, pickles, and sweets.
During my time at one of the ochayas, I was able to watch maikos and geikos as they were entertaining everyone in the room. These people are experts at getting people to talk as they serve them drinks, plus they lead drinking games as well as perform traditional dances and music. Before leaving the Gion area, I ventured over to the Shirakawa Area, which is near the Shirakawa Canal. Willow trees line the canal and there are multiple restaurants and ochayas that have spaces that overlook the canal.
I really loved seeing the older buildings while I was in Japan, especially the castles and the temples. The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 and was divided into three different areas. The Honmaru is the main circle of defense, the Ninomaru is the secondary circle of defense, and the gardens are the third area that encircles the first two.
I walked through the Karamon Gate to the Ninomaru Palace and found myself staring in awe at the elegantly decorated ceilings and sliding doors. I walked past many rooms, but I was not allowed to venture inside the room where the shogun used to sit on an elevated floor. The gardens outside the palace are breathtaking and filled with a large pond, ornamental stones, and pine trees.
When I went to the Ninnaji Temple, I discovered that it had been built in 888 and is now a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the buildings that were built back at that time are no longer around and the oldest buildings that can be seen are from the early 1600s. These buildings include Kondo, which is the main hall, Kannon Hall, the Niomon front gate, the Chumon inner gate, and the five-story pagoda.
I also discovered that I was visiting Ninnaji at the perfect time of the year, because the cherry blossoms were in bloom. Between the cherry blossom trees that lined the walkways and the rocks and gardens that surrounded the ponds, I felt a peace and sense of serenity that I had never experienced before.
I wasn’t sure if any other temple could be any more beautiful than Ninnaji, but I went to Kinkakuji, which is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. The top two floors of the most recent Kinkakuji are covered in gold leaf, which glistens in the sunlight. The temple has three floors and I discovered that each one has a different style of architecture. The first floor is Shinden style, while the second floor is Bukke style and the third is Chinese Zen Hall style. On the second floor are statues of Kannon Bodhisattva and the Four Heavenly Kings, but these statues are never shown to the public.
I found that the best place to view Kinkakuji was from across the pond and I stood there for what seemed like an eternity before I walked through the gardens. The gardens are the same as they were when Yoshimitsu lived there. As I was leaving Kinkakuji, I spotted a small temple which held a statue of Fudo Myoo, who was one of the Five Wisdom Kings and a protector of Buddhism.