August 17th, 2010
To-ji means something like East Temple and together with the West Temple of Sai-ji it formed the gateway to the ancient city of Heian-kyo, or modern Kyoto.
The Heian period is a highlight in the history of Japan as it was a period of great literary art works and prosper for the Japanese imperial court.
Today the To-ji temple is one of the reminders of these glorious days as the Sai-ji was burnt down. The To-ji has a beautiful pagoda which stands over 50 meters high and is known as the tallest wooden tower in Japan becoming a landmark of Kyoto.
By bus we headed to Higashiyama, one of the eleven districts in which Kyoto was divided. In Higashiyama we visited the Temple of Sanjusangendo which, after the largest wooden tower of Japan, is home to the largest wooden construction in the world.
Sanjusangendo has 1001 Buddha statues, all statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon, the main deity that stands for great compassion and is also known as the one that Observes all the Cries in the World.
Then we went to visit Nijo Caste, the former residence of the Tokugawa Shogun, the feudal rulers of ancient Japan during the Edo Perio which refers to Edo, modern Tokyo, as its capital.
Nijo Castle is world famous for its beautiful decorations like the breathtaking and stunning Nightingale Floors, one of the features of the Ninomaru Palace that makes this castle so special and unique. The Nightingale Floors were meant to protect the Tokugawa Shogun from intrudors and started a melody as soon as someone walked upon them.
The main access to the Ninomaru Palace is through the Karamon Gate and leads to a court and is another display of beautiful Chinese influenced decorations.
The Ninomaru Palace even owns its own coffee shop where visitors can buy souvenirs and take a break from their sightseeing.
More Chinese influences in the Japanese architecture was to be seen at the Heian Jingu Shrine a beautiful palace with an enormous torii, a typical Japanese gate in front of the main gate to seperate the sacred world from the profane.
The Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto with a replica of the original Imperial Palace that was built during the Heian Period.
Besides the sightseeing around the shrine which was beautiful enough we had the honor to witness the baptism of some Japanese newborns accompanied by their mothers and families as the Heian Jingu has become a common location for sacred or traditional ceremonies. After the baptism we saw a couple getting married as well so we had some great opportunities to make pictures and understand the importance of this sacred place.
From there on we made a walk through the Heian Jingu gardens which are accompanied by a map of the park. The thing I liked about these gardens was the path that runs through the lake and is made of large white round stones where you should hop on for good luck.
From here we did some more sightseeing around Kyoto and went to other more common places like the Kyoto Mall and along the riverbanks of the Kamo-gawa River to the east of the city which is a very popular place with residents and tourists alike. This is also where, in spring, you will be able to see the gorgeous blossoming cherry trees. Besides these, there are so many nice things to do in Kyoto that you'll easily find your way around!
From Kyoto we travelled by Shinkansen, also known as the super fast bullet train and part of the Japanese high-speed railway network from Kyoto Station, where we had our last great lunch to Odawara.
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