Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is the heart of traditional Japanese culture and the hills here turn pink during the cherry blossoms. After our visit to Osaka and Himeji Castle, this was our next stop. To this day, Ryoan-ji is one of my favorite places in the world because of the sight above. It's impossible to capture the moment in picture or word, but my friend and I entered the temple a bit burnt out from a day of temple hopping, turned the corner to see this cherry tree over the Zen garden, and were speechless. Literally. We both sat down and turned our full an complete attention to the scene.

I earnestly believe that we seldom truly experience the world around us. It's actually a skill that needs active practice because it's easy to get caught up in either the past or the future, instead of the present. In short, we think too much and it keeps us from truly experiencing the world around us. On top of the challenge of simply being present, we also add ourselves to our perception of the world. At a very basic level, even adding names to what we see around us is a distortion of a type because it adds values and associated concepts to the object being viewed. True experience wastes no energy on what is not there and instead focuses all the senses on everything around you. That might sound like a stretch, but this garden was built in part to help attain these types of true experiences through their use in Shikantaza, which is part of Zen Buddhism and is the practice of "quiet sitting in open awareness, reflecting directly the reality of life". We fell into some version of this when we were there and only left after someone politely let us know that they were closing for the night.

There is so much more to Kyoto than just cherry blossoms and Ryoan-ji. After the break, we'll continue the sakura festival and take a look around Kyoto.

The photo above comes from the Philosopher's Path in the Northeastern area of Kyoto. This is a great walk by a canal lined by cherry trees and temples. It's also an actual neighborhood and has retained much of its charm. It ends (or starts) by the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, which resembles the much more famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion on the other side of town. It's about 1.5 miles long and mostly flat walking once you are on the path.

Aside from the sakura blossoms, Kyoto is the heart of traditional Japanese culture. The imperial palace is set in Kyoto and there are endless Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to visit. In Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism live side by side (literally in many cases as shrines are built near Buddhist temples so that the Shinto spirits can work towards their own enlightenment) and in Kyoto there is a temple or shrine almost literally on every corner.

Among the various temples there is also the famous red torii gates of Kyoto. These are located at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which sits at the base of Inari mountain. Anyone visiting Kyoto must come here and take the hike. It's pretty fantastic.

Another must is the Kiyomizu-Dera and the Bamboo forests. The Kiyomizu-Dera can be done on the same day as the Inari Shrine if you are up for a long day of hiking, but the bamboo forest is on the other side of town and better done with the Nijo Castle. The Kiyomizu-Dera is perched in a cloud of Japanese maples and pretty a pretty impressive sight with a decent view over the city.

The Gion District is the traditional geisha district, which is now primarily restaurants and a couple pachinko parlors. After a long day walking through temples, this is where you're most likely to get a good bite to eat. At the guest house we were staying at, Ichi En Sou, we had a great host named Yashi who was able to show us around the area and to the good places.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!!! great pics.... nice job..