For almost a thousand years Kyoto sat as the imperial capital of Japan. One of Japan’s most important cultural and historical centers, it is home to thousands of shrines and temples. For many people, Kyoto is synonymous with old Japan. So when friends come to visit, we try to fit in a visit.
Fushimi Inari shrine is the first stop on our tour, which acts as the head shrine for the god of rice. Being the god of rice makes you pretty popular in Japan, with some thirty thousand sub-shrines scattered throughout the country. While Inari is principally the Japanese god of rice, it is also the god of foxes, fertility and sake, among other things.
Rinsing our hands and mouth is part of the ritual for visiting a shrine.
The main shrine sits at the base of a mountain, also called Inari, with paths leading up to the summit.
Miko (shrine maidens) take notes on a ceremony routine.
Most tourists visit the shrine to see the thousands of torii gates that line the paths up the mountain. Businesses can ‘adopt-a-torii’ and have their name inscribed on the back of the columns.
Walking along the path, we pass many teahouses, smaller shrines, and of course, torii gates. At the top of the mountain sits another shrine.
Near the top is a lookout point with a nice view of the city center.
Back at the base of the mountain, several shops sell shrine-related goods and charms.
Cutting across town to our next destination.
Along the way, a woman takes a break and practices her swing technique on the playground.
The crowds increase as we approach our next destination: Kiyomizu-dera. The shopping street in front of the site is particularly popular.
We make our way through the temple complex, passing by the gates and the tall pagoda.
A lot of temples share their grounds with shrines, like this shrine that can help you with your love life.
Kyomizu-dera itself is a temple with a large veranda reaching out from the hillside. Anchored to the slope with large wooden pillars, the support structure is said to be constructed without using a single nail.
People burn incense on the veranda and then waft the smoke onto themselves for good fortune.
Another pagoda peaks out from an adjacent hill.
The temple and surrounding paths offer beautiful views of Kyoto.
Down at the bottom of the temple is the Otowa waterfall, which inspired the temple’s name. It is diverted into three channels. Drinking from each stream bestows good fortune in either health, success, or love. But if you are greedy and drink from all three, you won’t receive any good fortune at all.
One of our nights in Kyoto include the Diamonji festival. Large bonfires are set up on the mountain sides around Kyoto to mark the end of Obon.
The first fire is the character for large or great.
The second fire we can see is a boat. Three other fires are lit, but because they a so far apart, few vantage points let you see all of them at the same time.
Our last night in Kyoto is spent at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. This means yukata and ofuro, but more importantly a fancy breakfast. Our visit concludes with a bullet train back to Tokyo.
Despite being a hotbox in the summer, Kyoto still attracts tons of tourists. Not surprising, since there is so much to see. We barely scratched the surface with our trip. If you get the chance, make a trip to Kyoto—you won’t regret it.