Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kyoto, Day 1: Kyomizudera and Sanjusangen-do

On our first full day in Kyoto, GPG and I visited two of the city's most famous temples, Kiyomizudera and Sanjusangen-do, which are conveniently located near where the Chairpeople live. These were two very impressive sights to see to begin our Kyoto adventure!

Kiyomizudera is a very large temple in the eastern hills flanking Kyoto. You walk up a hill and up some steep stone steps and enter through this vermillion gate:

Orange, or vermillion, is a lucky color in Japan. It's intended to scare evil spirits away. We saw quite a lot of orange during our time in Kyoto.

Once you get through the enormous gate, you see this:

There are some temple buildings and shrines towards the front of the temple grounds. I'm not sure what they all are used for.

But the main thing Kyomizudera is famous for is the primary temple building, which is partially built out onto the side of the hill. A lot of pictures of the temple feature this enormous wooden platform:

In the picture, they're kind of small, but you can see a big crowd of Japanese schoolkids all mingling around on the platform. Hopefully their small size gives you an idea of just how big the platform is. The amazing thing is that it's entirely made out of wood. A lot of times during the trip, I was impressed with the historical buildings we were seeing precisely because they were made out of wood--not stone, like a lot of European cathedrals are. It's amazing that wooden buildings like that can last for so long. We're talking centuries, if not millennia! It's really jaw-droppingly incredible.

(Oh, and I think Japanese schoolkids must get lots of field trips, because there were lots of them in all of the cultural/historical places we visited. You couldn't escape them.)

Kiyomizudera is also famous for its fountain. Water pours out of three stone spouts, and people use cups attached to long handles to catch some of it. Supposedly, if you drink the water, you will live a long life. I drank the water. GPG didn't.

On a less crowded side of the temple grounds, I discovered a lot of small stone statutes, all wearing colorful bibs:

A lot of the stones were worn and eroded, but the closest one with the white and red big shows that many of them had an image of Buddha on them. Unfortunately, though, I am not sure what these were all for, or why they were wearing bibs. Bibs are a big thing in Japan; we saw many statutes--not just ones like these, but even very detailed stone and metal statues of lions or foxes--wearing bibs. But we never found someone who could tell us why the bibs were important.

Something else that's very prevalent in Japan is "fortune-tying" (my own term, not theirs!). You can buy fortunes printed on thin strips of paper at practically every temple for the equivalent of about three to five US dollars. I'm not sure how the fortunes are generated, but it's basically a luck-of-the-draw thing (think fortune cookie luck), not a buffet-style thing where you can specify the kind of fortune you want. The Chairwoman told me that if you like the fortune printed on your slip of paper, you keep it, and presumably it will come true. But if you don't like it, it's bad luck to throw the paper away.

So, people tie the fortunes to these little stands posted in places around the temple grounds. I caught some teenagers in action actually tying their fortunes:

In some places, the fortune-tying stands are absolutely covered with tied fortunes. Some of them are shaped like trees so that the tied fortunes look like white leaves. More pictures of these things will come later.

After Kiyomizudera, we got lost, but eventually found Sanjusangen-do, a temple which boasts Japan's longest wooden building. (It may also be the longest wooden building in the world, but I'm not sure.) The building is so long because it contains one thousand (that's right, one THOUSAND) golden statutes of Buddha. It's sort of indescribable; you have to see it for yourself to understand the magnitude of these statutes, all around 6 feet tall, standing in long lines one behind the other, shoulder to shoulder. Unfortunately, you can't take photos on the inside of the temple! So you'll just have to imagine it until you go see for yourself.

The amazing thing about the statutes (besides their number) is that they are all DIFFERENT. They all have subtly different serene expressions on their faces, and they each have multiple arms that are all holding a different object. It's amazing to think about how long it must have taken artisans to carve all these different statutes out of cypress and then coat them with gold. And in the thirteenth century, no less! It was really an impressive sight.

I did manage to get a picture of the garden outside, where a plum blossom tree was blooming:

Behind the garden you can see the building housing all the statutes.

Later on our first day, we went to visit the Chairwoman at the Kyoto International School, where she teaches, and we also got to see a photographer's studio and a kimono-painting studio, which was a real treat. One of the school board members of KIS is a professional photographer, and her father is a well-published and highly regarded photographer as well. She was kind enough to take me and GPG to her family's studio, which features photos from her father, herself, and her husband (it's a family profession!). Many of them were of different temples and gardens in Kyoto and were simply beautiful. Japan is a really stunning country, especially as the seasons are changing.

The photographer also lives in the major textile district of Kyoto, so she took us to a kimono-painting studio nearby. Many kimonos have woven patterns, but there are some that feature painted patterns, with embroidery providing the gold and other metallic embellishments.

The painted kimonos at the studio were astounding. Although kimonos are quite simple in their construction--they basically consist of four long panels of fabric (two long ones for the body, with a shorter one on each side forming the sleeves), their beauty comes from the fabric. As a crafty/fibery person, the kimono-studio was right up my alley.

Some of the kimonos we saw were covered in non-repeating designs that covered all the panels of fabric; these designs were painted on after the kimono was assembled. They were really beautiful--just like works of art, with the kimono as a canvas. But, perhaps even more impressive were the kimonos that featured painting only in certain areas of the kimono, like branches of cherry blossoms that stretched diagonally over the bottom of a kimono and across the sleeves. Although these kimonos featured less painting, they were pieced together from the same bolt of silk! That means that the kimono-painter painted identical (but very intricate) designs repeatedly at certain lengths over the entire bolt of silk. In doing so, he had to be precise enough in his painting that when different kimono panels were cut from the same bolt, the design could be lined up properly to present a seamless painting on the finished kimono when the panels were sewn together. This is probably quite simple to do with machine-printing, and it's also probably feasible with some kind of pattern--but the kimono painter worked entirely free-hand! And the designs were sufficiently intricate that you really couldn't tell that they were repeats, either--it looked as though the painter had taken a fully assembled kimono and painted a single beautiful design onto it. It was really impressive.

However, GPG and I felt that it would probably be wrong and gauche to take pictures inside these private studios, especially when the artists themselves were being kind enough to let in people like us (i.e., people who weren't going to buy anything) and show us around, so there are no pictures of these beautiful things. I really would have liked to show you pictures of these amazing painted kimonos, but to no avail. I do have some pictures of woven kimonos--the latest kimono fashions, apparently!--from my visit to the Nishijin Textile Center, so I'll post those eventually.

It's hard to believe that I was in Japan only last week! Already I am forgetting some of the details of my trip! I'll have to hurry and post some more memories before I forget them entirely!

Next up: The Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle! But before that, a knitting break and another shawl!


Post a Comment

<< Home