Monday, November 26, 2012

Japan Trip - Kyoto, day 4

We began our final day in Kyoto with Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Created in the 8th century by a wealthy family, it is the head shrine for the 30,000 Inari shrines scattered across Japan.
The red torii (traditional gates found at the entrance to Shinto shrines) snake up the mountain for 4 km/2.5 miles. When you first enter the torii, all you see is a maze of solid red-orange.
But when you turn around, you see that all of the torii are inscribed with prayers and dedications.
The shrine complex was initially dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. We found this offering of sake, rice, and salt.
After wandering around Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, it was time for lunch. We stopped at a little restaurant near the shrine. I had a bowl of ramen with tempura (it is the first time I've seen a leaf made into tempura), and Bobby had eel.
We split this. Can you guess what it is?
If you guessed whole baby pheasant, you guessed correctly! The whole bird, which is marinated, is grilled. Once it's cooked, the head is removed and the remainder is chopped into bite-sized pieces, bone and all. It reminded us of the whole baby chicken we ate in Cambodia.
As we walked to the next temple, we got our favorite treat: ice cream! This time we had the really delicious black sesame ice cream. I could eat this stuff every day!
Ice cream finished, we headed to Tofuku-ji. Founded in 1236, Tofuku-ji currently includes 24 sub-temples and is a part of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The monk pictured here is overlooking the huge San-mon, which is the oldest Zen main gate in Japan.
One of the other large temples had this dragon painted inside the roof.
Similar to other Zen Buddhist temples we visited, Tofuku-ji has a sand garden. This garden was raked into a checker board pattern
There is also a lovely moss garden, complete with a little pond and a pretty stone bridge.
But the best part of Tofuku-ji is the small valley filled with maple trees.
I know we've already established my love/obsession with Japanese maple trees. But at least I wasn't the only one enamored with the bright red leaves and multiple colors. Tofuku-ji is actually one of Kyoto's most famous autumn-foliage spots.
And with good reason.
After the stunning Tofuku-ji, we headed towards the equally impressive Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavillion. Similar to Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji was initially built as a retirement villa but was converted into a temple soon as its original occupant's death.
The Zen garden here is much larger than the one in Tofuku-ji. The pond is large and surrounded by beautiful trees.
The sand garden is also larger and includes these large conical formations.
From a distance, you get a better idea of the sand garden's pattern.
The walking path, which meanders up the hillside a bit, provides a lovely view of the trees surrounding the pond and the top of Ginkaku-ji's roof.
Our last stop was to this Shinto cemetery. We were the only people in the cemetery, and with the wind blowing through the trees and the red and yellow leaves slowly drifting to the ground, it was a peaceful close to our time in Kyoto.
But we are unable to leave good enough alone, so we topped the peacefulness of the cemetery off with some cherry blossom ice cream.

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