Monthly Archives: March 2013

Old Meets New in Kyoto

Kyoto is such a unique city because the old and new meet and greet every day. When you walk through the streets, you instantly know that Kyoto is just as efficient and modern as other large cities around the world. However, this metropolis has developed from an ancient place that still thrives in this new environment.

Within Kyoto, you can find many shopping areas that are bustling with activity. Business people and tourists rub elbows as they window shop or pick up a quick bite to eat at the many restaurants. Cuisine from all over the world can be found in these districts, especially in Gion.

Yet just a block away from these main streets, you’ll find homes that are still built in the traditional style and women wearing kimonos. This is especially true in Gion, the geisha district, where these artists continue to perform at teahouses in the area. Their guests are businessmen now, and not shogun, but the same principles of entertainment apply.

The contrast between old and new is extremely clear in Kyoto. But perhaps people of this city use this to their advantage? Not only do they have the best of both worlds, they continue to prosper and create a better future because of it.

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Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto

Kyoto is a magnificent place to explore Buddhism and Shinto because there are so many temples and shrines located close together. While I was in Kyoto, I explored several religious areas, including Yasaka Jinja in the Gion District.

Yasaka Jinja started life as Gion Jinja around 650s and has remained a popular site for locals due to its close vicinity to highly populated shopping areas. It also plays a prominent role during the Gion Matsuri, an annual festival in July that began as a plea to the gods to ward off pestilence and plague in the late 800s. The practice has continued throughout the years and has expanded into a celebration and parade through the streets.

Within Yasaka Jinja, many people visit the main hall to conduct prayers. Offering are made and patrons shake a thick rope attached to a large bell. The bell summons the gods to listen to their prayers for good health and happiness.

Just outside the shrine you’ll find Maruyama Park, which is one of the most popular sites for cherry blossom viewing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there during the season so no blooms were visible. Still, the park offered a nice retreat from the bustling city and was a great place to relax and catch my breath.

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Nijo Castle: Tokugawa Shogunate’s Kyoto Castle

When visiting Kyoto, Nijō Castle is definitely one of the must-see tourist stops. It served as the Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa shoguns and the imperial court from the 15th century and became imperial property during the 17th century.

Before touring the palace, you must remove your shoes and put them into a compartment in the large shoe rack. As you move from room to room, day-to-day scenes from the period depict how each room may have been used. For instance, low-ranking officials were greeted in outer rooms that weren’t elaborately decorated while special guests were received in grand halls etched in gold.

The ceiling and shoji doors are all beautifully decorated with handpainted designs and tatami mats covered the floors. Some rooms feature gold-leaf patterns and carved wooden beams. Interestingly, when someone walks on the wooden floorboards, the boards make creaking sounds. This security device effectively alerted bodyguards of movement around the palace and helped them protect the shogun from assassins. It’s a shame you aren’t allowed to take photos though, but I suppose it would cause the artistry to degrade more quickly over time.

The outside of the palace has several gardens with ponds and rock formations that emphasize the Japanese-style of landscaping. Plum and cherry trees are tastefully clipped to create a view that is extremely pleasant on the eyes. Blue-chip gravel covers the ground and surrounds the garden area in a sea of blue that contrasts with the bright greens of nature.

Despite the Japanese-only information plaques and recordings, I still enjoyed my time at Nijō Castle. I guess it’s interesting to see how the other half lives, even if it’s in another language.

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