Tuesday, December 04, 2007

11/10/07: Day 9 in Japan Part I- Temples of Kyoto

One of the biggest thrill during my trip to Western Japan is the visit to the temples. I timed my visit not only to coincide with saké brewing season, but also with foliage season (紅葉) in mind. The tie between saké and temple goes far beyond season, of course. The key components of rice and water each plays significant role in Japanese culture, symbolizing wealth and purification. Saké itsef is central in religious ceremonies, and some breweries began with their origins to serving particular temples and shrines (e.g., Harushika for Kasuga Shrine (春日大社), for one.)

Interestingly, brewers such as Sakura Masamuné benefitted from this relationship, having imported traditional architechtural technique used in construction of temples such as the 1,400 year old Horyuji to make their Brewery. The significance of this technique is the methdod of architecture without use of nails, which can adversely affect the quality of the saké.

Between Nara and Kyoto, there are many significant temples and shrines. Here are some of them from Kyoto (as always, click on the photos to enlarge):

Located in western Kyoto area of Arashiyama (嵐山) is the Tenryuji (天竜寺) known for their traditional garden and a very surreal bamboo forest.

Perhaps the most recognizable of all temples are photogenic Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion), formally known as Rokuonji (鹿苑寺).

Not too far from Kinkakuji, also in northwestern Kyoto, is the famed Ryoanji (竜安寺), famous for their zen rock garden (called Karesansui, 枯山水).

On the eastern side, there is Nanzenji (南禅寺), notable for huge gate and aqueduct ("Sosui" 疏水) that extends to Lake Biwa. While the temple was completed in 1291, aqueduct was erected in 1890.

Right near Nanzenji is Eikando (栄観堂), temple surrounded by Japanese maple. Of all the trees, Japanese maple seems to hit folage season early, providing fantastic pallet of colors.

Further south is Heian Jingu (平安神宮), with its Chinese inspired architecture. It covers a large property, complete with a gardens and ponds.

One of the most famous temple is Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺), whose name refers to the "pure water" from a small waterfall on the premises. Located on a hillside, its signature strucutre is the large balcony supported by wooden columns.

Of course, there are many more temples in Kyoto. The best time to visit is during foliage season in November. Some of the temple offer "Light Up" admission in the evenings, which from what I've seen on the brochures, look spectacular.

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