I decided that my main goal would be visiting Kiyomizu-Dera, the most famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto. I had planned to go early in order to avoid the tourists, but I ended up exploring Maruyama Park and the little shrines on the way to the temple, so by the time I got there it was around ten o’clock and there was quite a crowd of tourists, both Japanese and foreign.
The street leading up to the temple was packed with shops selling everything from samurai swords to cell phone charms, a lot of it kitschy and kind of overpriced. I skipped the shopping and bought a charm for safe driving inside the temple grounds (I’ll probably need it when I get back home). The most awe-inspiring part of the temple for me was probably Tainai-meguri. You pay a hundred yen and then walk down steps into complete darkness, guided only by feeling along a strand of buddhist prayer beads attached to the wall. You eventually come to a big, round stone with a week light shining on it, which you are supposed to turn once for each wish that you have. The experience is supposed to represent entering the womb of a female Bodhisattva (person who has forgone enlightenment to guide others) that has the power to grant wishes. I suppose this is kind of gross-sounding, but it was very profound for me.
I was actually kind of disappointed with the main grounds of the temple. (When I asked if there was a student discount, the ticket seller more-or-less replied “lol, no. 300 yen please.” T.T) This might have been due the fact that the main temple was under construction, but nonetheless there was plenty to see. I visited the buddhist cemetery and stumbled upon a path into the forest that was absolutely devoid of people. There was beautiful foliage everywhere and yellow birds flitting about, and I couldn’t believe that no one else had stopped to at least look. I would have liked to follow the path, but I had no idea how long it was and I wanted to get back early.
I ended up eating lunch at in the temple grounds. I had green tea with kitsune soba, which is buckwheat noodles in broth with fried tofu. It was very simple, but at 600 yen it was less than half the price of most of the meals on the street outside the temple. The staff was very nice; once she realized that I spoke some Japanese she didn’t talk down to me at all.
I ended up getting lost on the way back and stumbled into Kinnen-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. Admission was 500 yen, but well worth it for the beautiful ink screens, rock garden, and massive drawing of twin dragons on the ceiling of the main hall.
I also passed close to the Gion district, so I got a chance to see some maiko (apprentice geisha), although I didn’t take pictures. Although, my host mother says that tourists can pay to be dressed up as maiko, so I don’t know if they were real or not.