Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kyoto: November

Phalerate (adj.): made beautiful; ornate, ostentatiously adorned or decorated. (English, now obsolete)

November has been a busy month! I really love it here, and it's unbelievable to think that I've already been away for five months. Kyoto in the fall is magnificent, and I've spent a great deal of time walking through the city and visiting surrounding areas to make the best of the beautiful weather. Here are some highlights, to give you an idea of what I've been up to:

Arashiyama. Arashiyama is a little district to the west of Kyoto, and extremely popular with tourists, couples, and school groups. It's best known for the enormous scenic bamboo forest (10/10, would definitely recommend) and its scenic river vistas, but I went for the Urushi Lacquer Festival at Kokuzo Hourin-ji temple. The temple is on top of a hill which is surprisingly hard to find (though to be fair I went without a map like a fool,) and hosts the festival that is a yearly event for lacquer artists in the area to make offerings and pray for success in the coming year. It started with a Noh performance inside the temple followed by ceremonies throughout the day--it was such a treat to visit. I spent the rest of the day wandering through bamboo groves and visiting temples like Tenryū-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple with gorgeous gardens.

Sekizanzen-in Temple. I made my way to northern Kyoto for the Juzu Buddhist Rosary Ceremony. It's the first festival I went to where I was clearly the only Western tourist in attendance. The festival was enormous, and it served as a memorial service for old juzu (Buddhist rosaries.) It was absolutely packed with people who came to have their juzu blessed, as well as vendors and food sellers.

Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was the first that truly reminded me of the dzongs I visited in Bhutan. It is perched on the top of a hill and about a fifteen minute walk from my house, and is an absolutely massive temple complex. There are several temple buildings under construction at Kiyomizu-dera, although the main temple hall is fully operational. I bought omamori (charms or talismans) at the temple office which are one of my favorite genres of sacred objects in Japan. Omamori can be employed for a variety of uses, like protection or good luck--I bought two, one for safe travel and one for academic success--and often take the form of a small, colorful cloth pouch with a piece of paper or wood inside (though they never should be opened, to preserve their power.) There is some debate about the quality of factory-made vs handmade omamori as it relates to their effectiveness, which I find fascinating; over and over during this project I have been encountering the theme of intention and power, and how the process of making an object has a direct impact on its sacredness.

Mt. Kurama. Reportedly the site with one of the highest spiritual energies in Japan, Mt. Kurama is perhaps my favorite place I have visited in Japan. It is a place of intense quiet (and intense walking, but that comes with most mountains) and the further up you go, the deeper the contemplation gets. There are many shrines on the way up, and the air is saturated with energy and cold and quiet. The main temple hall is almost at the top, a temple dedicated to a trinity deity. The summit itself is a cedar grove with exposed roots and a slight wind blowing through the trees; it is believed that this is the founding site of Reiki. I'll definitely be going back again before I leave--it's too special to just go once.

Summit of Fushimi Inari. I decided to revisit Fushimi Inari, the enormous Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, and make my way to the top of the mountain. The number of times I looked at my map and nearly cried during this hike was astronomical. But the views on the way up were worth it!
(very important side note: there is a Neko Cafe right near Fushimi Inari Station, where you can drink tea and hang out with cats. 100000/10, would definitely recommend)

Uji. Aside from being the green tea capital of Japan, Uji is home to Byōdō-in, a Buddhist temple that has been in operation since 998 CE. It's an enormously popular place to visit being both a Japanese National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot.  Its most popular feature is the Phoenix Hall, the main temple hall that houses a massive statue of Amida Buddha and a host of flying Bodhisattva carvings. The draw of the site for me, however, was in the on-site Hoshokan Museum, which houses most of the site's treasures and is responsible for their preservation and display (read: drooool.) The museum includes archaeological finds displayed alongside Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the original bronze phoenixes that give the main hall its name. The conservation efforts on the site are focused on stabilizing the site's treasures while performing technical analysis to study technique and materials, so that the museum can create honest reproductions to put on display in the functioning parts of the temple complex. Their current project is the creation of reproduction doors for Phoenix Hall, a massive undertaking that involves a lot of research into wood and metal. So. Neat.

So! I have about two weeks left in Kyoto, and then I head to Ireland. I'll be sad to leave, but I have a feeling in my gut that I'll be back. Hopefully next time I'll be armed with more Japanese. And Cheetos.