Sunday, March 21, 2010


A theme to our trip to Japan seems to be traveling. I am willing to wager that Stephany and I spent equal amounts of time on trains, buses and subways as we did sightseeing or exploring.

Eventually Stephany and I did make it to Kinkaku-ji. The famous golden Zen Buddhist temple is as synonymous with Kyoto as the geisha. Kinkaku-ji (Ji means Buddhist temple) was built in 1393 as a retirement villa and then converted into a temple. The original building was much less ornate than what we saw as the original burnt down in 1955 and the gold leaf has recently been replaced. You don't see the temple until you round the corner waking me to the fact that I was really in Japan.

I can't say this enough. I love Japan.

Japan is very different than Korea. The mythical East Asia of my dreams lives on strong within Japan. The towns are diverse architecturally and the people have fascinating differences in fashion. Also many people commute on bike and strangely enough Kyoto reminded me of Amsterdam. Japan was a lovely break from the stares and faceless housing blocks of Korea.

After Kinkaku-ju, Stephany and I found our way back into the central part of Kyoto and decided to wander with temple intent. Its impossible not to find temples in Kyoto and stumbled into a Shinto Shrine and a massive Zen Buddhist temple.

Many Japanese would describe themselves as both Buddhist and Shinto. Shinto tends to be the religion of choice for life and Buddhism for after death. Shinto is a purely Japanese religion based on the worship of Kami spirits who are found in all living and natural things. While 90% of Japanese take part in shrine ceremonies only 30% are considered to ascribe to the faith system. Stephany is standing in front of a Shinto shrine in the picture. They have distinctive orange Tori gates and often a brighter color scheme. Yet it is difficult to tell the two apart at a glace as Buddhism and Shintoism are so connected many temples are templeshrines with the symbolism and traditions of both religions.

Kyoto has over 1600 Shrine and Temples. We had no specific plans to visit temples outside of the Golden One so I felt very lucky that our wanders took us to Mii-dera. Founded in 672 this Buddhist temple is one of the four largest in Japan. The site of much turmoil and warfare the temple was burned to the ground in three major wars before finally being rebuilt in 1599. Its sprawling grounds are prefect for two sisters with a knack for stumbling off the beaten track. Along with the main halls, we explored the bell tower and the graveyard. I will always remember the emotions of standing in that empty graveyard with the rustling sounds of the sotobas in the wind (sticks meant to represent stupas left at grave site). It was a moment that made me reflect on how blessed I am to be traveling yet again.

We also traversed a bit up the mountain to find a small fresh water spring dedicated to Jizo the guardian of children who die before their parents. Statues of Jizo are often decorated with red bibs.

After the exploring the shrine, We traveled to Gion. The historic center of Kyoto which is home to narrow back alleys and traditional homes. Stephany and I lurked the streets hoping to see a Gieko (Kyoto term for Geisha). This was our quest and we traveled up and down the streets stopping at nothing.

Ok, maybe some savory mochi in front of Kyoto's Miniami-za Kabuki theater could
cause us to pause.

We rewarded in the early evening to see a young Maiko (Geisha in training) being herded by a older woman teetering in her okobo shoes. It felt much more like stepping into a movie set then reality and the uniqueness of the situation is striking me more as I write this then it did at the time. I regret not taking a picture of her but I did manage to snap one of this full fledged Geisha.

That's all for now, later I'll share the epic story of "Kalk Sisters; Lost in the Bamboo Forest!"


  1. All I know about Japan I learned from the t.v. miniseries - "SHOGUN". Which, I'm sure is totally accurate : )
    Nice to hear your comments - and I look forward to more.

  2. I know about Japan too because your Dad and I have sushi for lunch periodically..... actually it's run by Koreans.... I guess that makes me expert in both countries.

    Happy travels! ~

    John P.