Our second day in Kyoto was a full one, combining tourism with a bit of being social. In the morning, we visited Ni-jo castle, which I hadn’t been to since 2000, my very first visit to Japan. Now that I’ve visited a handful of castles, I can see how unusual Ni-jo is. No imposing donjon here, just a lovely receiving palace (Nihonmaru). We padded around the palace in our stocking’d feet, marveling at the nightingale floors and the lovely artwork. Afterward, we wandered around the grounds a bit before heading to Kyoto station to meet a blogger friend of my mom’s, who was coming up from Nara to meet us.
She turned out be to quite a sweet, delightful retiree with quite good English, a good sense of humor and an amazing camera. She treated us to Japanese tea and sweets at a little tea house across from Mister Donut and Cafe du Monde, on the second floor of the station. I picked the strongest matcha, despite the concern of our waitress and our new friend. It turned out to be … well, earthy is perhaps an understatement. But the sweet was quite tasty. And the conversation quite engaging. The time flew by, and too soon we said good bye, so we could see a bit more of Kyoto.
This time we walked east about 1.5 kilometers, heading for Sanjusangendo, a temple filled with 1000 statues of Kannon, protecting a central 1000-armed Kannon. (Official site is here.) I’ve wanted to go there for years, but never managed to fit it in. Before we headed in, we stopped at a temple across the street, Yogen-in. Curiously, one small building up front was filled with tiny buckets, presumably an offering, but one I hadn’t seen before. When we got to the main building, I saw that we could go in for a small fee, so while my parents waited outside, I paid, and slipped in … to find a docent giving a tour.
I felt it would be rude to slip around the group, so I stuck around and got pulled into the group (the docent was amused to find a foreigner in her audience, wanted to know if I knew about Sekigahara; yes, of course). I didn’t catch a whole lot of what she said, but I certainly clued in that what she was intent on telling us about were the bloody impressions of soldiers who’d been killed (or committed ritual suicide) in a nearby castle (Fushimi, as it turns out). I didn’t want to keep my parents waiting to much longer, so I slipped out when the docent led everyone to the next room. As I was leaving, the woman selling tickets asked if I’d understood. I told her I understood just some of it, so she handed me an English print-out, which confirmed what the docent had explained. Gruesome, but fascinating. You can read a bit more about the historical event here and here.
Sanjusangendo is right across the street, and from the outside seems to be a very simple, plain temple, even though the building itself is the longest wooden structure in Japan. I had assumed we might get a peek into the building, at most, and so was unprepared to get to enter the temple and walk its full length. Impressive is an understatement. No pictures, of course, so you’ll need to check out the links I shared above. In addition to the 1001 Kannon statues, there are various Buddhist deities serving as guardians. It’s quite awe-inspiring. There’s a guide to what the Kannons are holding in each hand, but it was a bit too dark for me to make out the entire image (plus this guide, unlike those for the guardians, was only in Japanese). I’m very glad I finally made it to this wonderful temple.
Next up: High tide, ahoy! Miyajima island.