Thursday, April 05, 2007

Kyoto, Day 4: Kinkakuji, Ryoan-ji, and Ninna-ji

On our fourth day in Kyoto, GPG and I were ready to stop walking everywhere and start taking the bus. We had only walked for our first three days, and each day our legs were sorer and sorer. So we hopped on a city bus to see some of the sights out in the farther reaches of the city.

One such sight is Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion:

Like Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, I think Kinkakuji originally served as living quarters for a wealthy person, but then was eventually converted into a Buddhist temple. If I recall correctly, the Japanese government spent lots and lots of money to recover the pavilion in gold leaf one or two decades ago. That's probably why it's so nice and shiny.

Although Kinkakuji is certainly impressive, its gardens were less developed and beautiful (in my opinion, at least) than Ginkakuji's gardens. (Maybe Ginkakuji, since it's not covered in gold leaf or even silver leaf, feels like it has to compensate?) The main attraction at Kinkakuji really is the golden pavilion. I didn't take many pictures of any of the gardens as a result.

However, I did take this picture of two wizened old women, gathering up lots and lots of coins that tourists had thrown at some sort of Buddhist stone carving:

As irreverent as it seems, I couldn't help thinking that they looked a little bit like Hobbits.

Since we'd had something of a late start to our day, after leaving Kinkakuji we were quite hungry, so we needed to find some lunch. Fortuitously for us, on the road that joins Kinkakuji, Ryoan-ji, and Ninna-ji, there was . . . a Japanese fast food restaurant! We went in and muddled our way through ordering and came away with reasonably decent food.

As a result, we were inordinately proud of ourselves.

Although Japan has restaurants like McDonald's, there are also Japanese fast food places that serve up traditional Japanese food quickly. They usually feature a variety of noodle soups and rice dishes, plus--most dauntingly--an automated machine from which you order your food:

This thing basically functions like a vending machine. You insert money, and there are various buttons that you can press to order the item you want. The machine returns your change, if you have any, plus a ticket that you give to the person at the counter. That ticket tells the restaurant staff what to cook up for you.

It's a pretty clever idea, except that everything on the machine is in Japanese. There are pictures on the buttons so that you can figure out what you're getting yourself into, but before you can actually order food you have to push one of two buttons that, we suspected, tell the restaurant staff if you want you order "for here" or "to go." At least, that's what GPG surmised while we were trying to order. We picked one button and were lucky it was the right one ("for here")! I, for one, was very excited about being able to order Japanese fast food without actually knowing a lick of Japanese. The food was even reasonably good.

After our success at the fast food restaurant, we continued walking down the road to Ryoan-ji, which GPG was very interested in seeing. It's most famous for its Zen stone garden, which is supposed to be one of the premier examples of this sort of thing in Kyoto, if not in Japan. GPG is a big fan of such dry gardens, so of course we had to go.

Lots of tourists sit by the side of the garden and contemplate what it means. Our guidebook told us that the garden is designed so that you can never see all the fifteen different rocks in it at the same time. Although my Japanese is virtually nonexistent, I could hear some of the other tourists counting out the rocks to see if this information was true.

Ryoan-ji also had some plum blossoms blooming:

It was practically instinctual for me to take pictures of all the plum blossoms we ever saw, even though they never made for particularly good photographs. I guess it's just because we were in Japan early enough in the season that not very many things were blooming. So seeing splashes of pink was something rare, and also very pretty, and I took lots of pictures.

We also found more bibbed statues on the grounds of Ryoan-ji:

I still don't know what all those bibs are for.

Lastly, we went to Ninna-ji. As I mentioned in my write-up of our first day in Kyoto, GPG and I met a professional photographer that day. She told us that Ninna-ji is one of her favorite temples, so we wanted to make sure we saw it--she had clearly taken pictures (or seen pictures that her father or husband had taken) of most of the temples in Kyoto, so we figured her opinion was trustworthy.

She was right. Ninna-ji turned out to be one of my favorite temples in Kyoto, too. It's a welcome change from some of the other temples because they actually let you walk everywhere in the main complex of buildings. Most temples--at least, the ones that don't appear to hold public services or have an active congregation--only allow you to look at the historical buildings from the outside. So GPG and I really enjoyed wandering all over the place in Ninna-ji; there are a lot of walkways and rooms to look into.

Here is the main gate of Ninna-ji. The best part, which isn't really apparent from the picture itself, is that I'm taking it from inside the temple complex.

Like many other temples and historical buildings, Ninna-ji had very beautiful gardens:

They also had some very carefully raked dry gardens one could enjoy in combination with the "living" gardens:

But, clearly, that bridge over the pond can't be too useful. At least, not if you don't want to ruin the nice Zen garden!

Again, all of the pictures of the gardens were taken from various vantage points inside the buildings of Ninna-ji. It was very cool to go poking around everywhere.

This picture gives you a better idea of just what it was like to wander all over the place:

I liked the series of standing lamps. There were many covered walkways like this in Ninna-ji that led to different buildings, where you could look at various tatami rooms and Buddhist altars.

The funny thing is that our guide book, which was pretty good (The Rough Guide to Japan; I'd highly recommend it), didn't mention anything about Ninna-ji--even though it's fairly close to Kinkakuji and Ryoan-ji. GPG and I suspected that perhaps the reason why Ninna-ji lets you tromp all over the property is because it happens to be off the main tourist track, for whatever reason. If all the major tourist temples let tourists wander willy-nilly through the buildings, there'd be nothing left to see. So we were very glad that our photographer friend told us it was worth visiting. I really think it's one of the best places to visit in Kyoto.

Next up: Nara! Japanese deer! (They're pushy!) And Uji!


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