Friday, July 24, 2009

Kyoto - Temple and Historical Structures

Kyoto was Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face. Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today. Some of the shrines and temples to visit in Kyoto are the following.

Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period. The temple dates back to 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water. It separated from the Hossō school in 1965.

The main hall has a veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. The popular expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now prohibited.

Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water drop into a pond. Visitors to the temple collect the water, which is believed to have therapeutic properties, from the waterfall. It is said that drinking the water of the three streams confers wisdom, health, and longevity. However, some Japanese believe that you must choose only two — if you are greedy and drink from all three, you invite misfortune upon yourself.

The temple complex includes several other shrines, among them the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and "good matches". Jishu Shrine possesses a pair of "love stones" placed 18 meters apart, which lonely visitors attempt to walk between with their eyes closed. Success in reaching the other stone with their eyes closed implies that the pilgrim will find love, or true love. One can be assisted in the crossing, but this is taken to mean that a go-between will be needed. The person's romantic interest can assist them as well.

Toji Temple
Its a Buddhist temple established in 796 AD and named Kyo-o-gokoku-ji. It was built to guard the city. Its name means East Temple and once it had a partner Suji(West Temple). They stood alongside the Rashomon, the gate to the Heian capital. The most interesting thing about Toji is the five storied pagoda which is 57m high. It is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. The present pagoda was built by the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu in 1644. Toji is one of Kyoto's many UNESCO world heritage sites. You can see avariety of Buddhist sculptures. Inside the temple, the images of the Four Buddhas and their followers, the eight great Bosatsu, are found. Taking pictures inside the temple is strictly prohibited.

There is a popular antiques market held at Toji on the 21st of every month until around 4:30, and a smaller one on the first Sunday of the month.

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of Inari. It is located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto. The mountain in which the shrine is placed is also named Inari, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines.
Because Inari is the god of business, each of the Torii is donated by a Japanese business. Merchants and manufacturers worship Inari for wealth. Donated torii lining footpaths are part of the scenic view. It has as many as 40,000 sub-shrines throughout Japan. If possible, visit Furshimi Inari near dusk — you'll be much more likely to wander alone through the tunnels of torii in the quiet woods, which is a magical experience as daylight fades.

Foxes (kitsune), regarded as the messengers, are often found in Inari shrines. One attribute is a key (for the rice granary) in their mouths. The shrine draws several million worshipers over the Japanese New Year. The shrine is a three-minute walk from JR Nara Line Inari Station, 10 minutes from Kyoto Station. It is a five-minute walk from Keihan Electric RailwayMain Line Fushimi-Inari station.

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