After Nishiri, Inga and I continued on foot to Southern Higayashima area as planned. I was enticed there in part by my Lonely Planet guidebook, which said something like “if you only have one day in Kyoto, this is the place to go”. And so, we went!
We climbed steadily uphill, still sweating like crazy. And, defying the Japanese custom of not eating in public, we found a little bench, and I pulled out my 500Y peach and ate it while we watched people mill around en route to or back from the temple. Refreshed and recharged from the break, we pushed on and arrived at the top shortly thereafter. Here is the view from the street at the base of the temple complex:
Some of the buildings were in better shape (with fresher paint) than others, which is why there is the variation in color between the structure in the front and the one in the back. However, overall, these buildings were in much better shape than many that we saw, which raised questions for me about how this enormous number of temples is maintained. What’s the business model? I don’t know if it’s just based on donations from the local community and from tourists, or if there are other sources that make it possible to maintain so many buildings throughout the city. If it’s just donations, it would make sense that the most popular and well-visited ones are in the best shape, but that seems like a vicious downward spiral for those that don’t draw the throngs of visitors like Kiyomizu-Dera does …
We paid the admission fee, refilled our water bottles from the little spring at the temple gates, and headed into the complex. I knew the view from the top would be spectacular, and we were not disappointed – from the plaza near the entry gate we were able to see West across Kyoto and to the mountains on the other side!
From the main plaza we wandered into the Love Shrine area:
For several hundred Japanese Yen we could buy offerings and make wishes to the presiding deities, or purchase pre-printed fortunes like the one below:
As with many of the places we visited, there was also the option to buy blanks and write in your heartfelt wishes. For some reason I really liked this one … and appreciated that it was written in English so I could invoke my own blessings for the wisher!
This area of the temple grounds was colorful, energetic – riotous, almost. There were many people milling about, lots of young people laughing, talking, and clearly enjoying themselves. Not exactly what I had expected for a temple visit, but great great fun in any case!
From there we wandered down a pathway through the woods, where we spotted a hillside covered in trees with little wooden markers, and groupings of stone figurines wearing aprons (many of them red, or with red as a major color in the patterns), tucked into the hillside.
Following our trip, Inga learned that these little statues represent the popular deity Ksitigarbha, who was known as Jiz? or Ojiz?-sama. Ojizo is seen as the guardian of children, especially those who died before their parents.
The figurines had been presented with offerings of water and flowers, but without a translator, we were not able to understand the specifics of what was being celebrated, by whom, and why. We took a lot of pictures of signs in the hopes we could get some help later, though, so if I learn anything new about what we saw, I will provide an update here!
As we traveled down the walkway we came to another open area, where we saw female members of (what appeared to be) a wedding party were gathering for photos.
There were also a lot of people milling around and waiting in line for another water source, which they were drinking, using the clean their hands, and so on. Again, no seriousness here … lots of laughing, joking, and celebrating. It was hard for us to tell whether the visitors were also tourists, or if there were any locals in the mix. There were *a lot* of Japanese, and only a few foreigners, but nobody really gave us a second look.
As we headed back towards the Temple exit, we reconnected with Peter for another (sushi) dinner. It was good, but I am not so fond of sushi that I need it two meals in a row. And maybe more importantly, I was tired – we had been out walking (with small breaks for food and shade, of course) for nine or ten hours. Inga and Pete went out to meet some people that Pete had been in touch with through couchsurfing.com, but I got seriously focused on bed, knowing that we had really packed in some great adventures on our first full day in Japan!