We took the Thunderbird from Kanazawa station to Kyoto in the morning. Skimming past the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, the morning sun in my eyes, the lake was an endless stretch of silver water rimmed by hills and small towns. As we pulled into Kyoto station, a sense of familiarity and excitement set in as we recognised landmarks.
From Kyoto station it was a 10-minute walk to K’s House Kyoto. I wanted to experience different types of accomodation on this trip and K’s House provided the hostel experience. The building (painted in yellow) and its extension, was modern and clean. Our room was an 8-bedded dorm. Because of the size of our group, we paid to have the whole dorm to ourselves. Toilets and bathrooms are communal and just next door.
We dropped the bags off at the hostel’s luggage room and zoomed out for sight-seeing. In autumn night falls early at 5pm and we didn’t want to miss any daylight sightseeing hours, especially since it already took us the better part of the morning just to get to Kyoto from Kanazawa.
It was a short 150m walk down Shichijo-dori and across the Kamo-gawa to take the bus to our first stop – Kiyomizudera. I had bought the 2-day city bus and subway pass (which I felt was a bit pricey at 2000yen per adult) and so armed with a bus map, we took the public bus. As usual, the bus was packed with people! My bus experience in Kyoto has never been good and this was no exception.
This picture shows the kids at the Kamo gawa. In the background, you can see a short white buidling, that’s the entrance to the Keihan Shichijo station. The Kamo-gawa was wide but not deep and in places near the banks, I think you could even wade in and play in the summer. But for now, no, not in this cold!
It was not far to Higashiyama from the hostel, barely 4 or 5 stops but the traffic was bad and the bus was crowded so it took a while. We’d been to Kiyomizudera
(or, Clear Water Temple) before but wanted to go again because the last time we went, it was drizzly and getting dark and we totally missed the Jishu Jinja, the small shrine for love and marriage. We also missed the Tainai Meguri the last time.
To get to Kiyomizudera, you have to climb a steepish hill, flanked with shops. Its really commercialised and touristy and every other shop either sells souvenirs or pricey drinks/snacks. I have to give Trin credit for walking like the rest of us, for most of the way. Its not easy going uphill and being smooshed on all sides by the thick crowd.
Made it! At the entrance to Kiyomizudera at last!
Just before you enter the temple proper, on the left side of the grounds, there is a small building. This has the usual store that sells the omamori, the charms etc. You can also try your luck at the omikuji (fortune slips) here. But far more interesting and less noticed by the hordes of visitors to the temple, is the Tainai Meguri. This is probably one of the strangest places to visit but pretty fun for everyone!
The Tainai Meguri is said to be the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu. The last time we went, we completely missed this despite also doing the omikuji routine at the same place! But this time, having read the Lonely Planet about the Tainai and given that there were now temple workers who explained what it was all about, it was easy to find. You pay 100yen, take off your shoes and descend down into a dark cave where you follow a beaded wooden handrail which leads in a loopy fashion to a huge stone. The English translation from the Kiyomizudera website says something like: “Return to the womb of great merciful mother. When you find a light in the dark you will realize you are newborn again. There is a Sanskrit character that symbolized Daizuigu Bosatsu on the stone. Turn the stone and make a wish.”
Not much different from our experience in Zenkoji, but this one less atmospheric because it was more crowded and it was not entirely pitch dark – which KH was fervently grateful for. At the point where the big stone was, there was a shaft of light. We all stood around the stone and turned it, making our (rather noisy!) wishes! The kids enjoyed it tremendously though and thought it was a great deal of fun!
Fresh from our ‘rebirth’ , the kids pestered to do the omikuji. It was simple – shake the box, a numbered stick will fall out, present to the lady behind the counter with 100yen and she will issue you with the fortune slip. The kids all took turns to do this. I was the go-to girl for interpreting the fortune slips. Let me say that I can’t read Japanese so the best I can do is tell you whether the fortune is good or bad, but forget about translating the details!
Here’s Gillian and Owain getting the omikuji. Owain is so independent that he did it all by himself – shaking the box, getting the money and the stick to the lady. I think other kids, even other adults, might be a bit intimidated about doing this without knowing a scrap of Japanese but Owain just went right ahead while the rest of us were busy looking at each other’s fortune slips.
As usual, most of us had good or exceptionally good fortune while KH and Gillian once again, drew slips which were not so good. To discard the bad fortune, all you had to do was tie them to the racks conveniently provided.
Kiyomizudera was super crowded. On hindsight, I realised that we must have ended up in Kyoto over a long weekend again. It was a marvel how the wooden platforms, so iconic of Kiyomizudera, did not collapse under the weight of the massive crowd, especially since they must be several hundreds of years old!
Yep, it’s a steep drop and a lo-ong way down. Trin looks rather precariously perched there doesn’t she? Centuries ago, it was said that whoever jumps from this point and lives will get his wish come true. Well, sure! If you can jump from here and still live, heck, life – even a shitty one – will start to look real good to you! Luckily some common sense prevailed and no one does it any more!
And finally, here we are at the Jishu jinja shrine. Its a quaint place atop a small hill. The shrine is dedicated to love and marriage. So the charms sold here are mostly those dedicated to success in love, although the usual ones for examinations, good luck, health, wealth, longevity, traffic safety etc are still there.
The interesting bit about this place is the pair of ‘love stones’. These are two small boulders set about 18m apart. It is said that if you close your eyes, and call or think about, the name of your loved one, and can walk from one stone to the next succesfully – without assistance, you will find success in love. If you can’t, well, time to get a new partner.
Because KH, Gillian and Caitlin had rushed off to the toilet with Trin who badly needed to pee, only the boys and I went to the Jishu shrine. The two of them had a lot of fun up there. Both attempted to close their eyes and walk (without cheating!) from one stone to the other.
Does it work? Well, I wrote about my impending move down to another office and how I disliked the tight space and lack of privacy. Today, I was told I’d have to move in two days!! So you tell me…