Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Gion, Part 4: Kiyomizu-dera

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

No question, on the list of "things you absolutely must see if you visit Kyouto," Kiyomizu-dera is at the absolute top. Until recently, though, I'd somehow never gotten around to it. Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Hieizan, Byoudoin, sure, but never Big Mama herself. And then, by a strange twist of luck, I ended up going twice in two days - once with my Doushisha friends, and then again, on a sort of English Club proselytizing tour in which we broke prospective members into groups, tossed them in with a few joukaisei, and spent the day trying to convince them how much fun we are to hang out with. (The real members even paid for their bus fare, entry fees, etc; I paid my own way but did not contribute to the pot because, hey, not a buin!) What's kind of funny is that there were multiple groups for every conceivable tourist sight in Kyouto-shi, and I managed to draw Kiyomizu-dera after having just been there the day before. So I collected some ok photos, thoroughly sated my curiosity, and can say with confidence that it is indeed fairly impressive, and I can recommend it for your itinerary.

 Kiyomizu-dera is all the way down at Gojou. Does this even count as Gion? Let's say yes.

 To get there, you walk up one of a couple of long, steep, narrow roads. This is a pretty fun little excursion in and of itself. Commune with the crowd, check out the old-style buildings, perhaps investigate the plethora of small stores if you're so inclined. They're mostly, like, textile shops, curiosity shops, and snack vendors, although there is one larger place selling maccha-related foodstuffs, which make decent souvenirs. They will entice you inside with cold tea; you don't have to buy anything, but you do at least have to go in and pretend to look, which will provide you with a moment's respite from the beating sun anyway, so maybe keep an eye out for this place if you need it. There's also plenty of ice cream, and some of it is absolutely delicious.
 The front entrance. It may look familiar. Notice that I visited in sakura season!
 The road forward.
 The view backward. Notice Kyouto Tower in the distance. It's down by Hachijou, of course, but it's surprisingly close because the distance between Jous shrinks the farther south you get.
 That's some pretty colourful and auspicious detailing for a temple. Japanese Buddhism is usually much more sombre.
 The good stuff is behind a (trivial) paywall, but you can also just hang out around this area if you want.
 There is a purification basin directly behind this group of people, and you can enter the building to the left for a nominal fee. It's pitch-dark inside and you have to cling to a banister up against the wall, following an unpredictable, winding underground path. Go with a group of Japanese girls; they will squeal and scream and it will be hilarious. (I was admonished for suggesting we cast a little light on the situation with our cell phones...) This confusion and uncertainty is, I think, supposed to represent the confusion and uncertainty of our daily lives, which we can only surmount by putting our faith in someone who has already walked the path. Eventually you reach enlightenment, embodied by a huge illuminated stone with a character on it that I can't read; it spins, and stops when you touch it. The people I was with told me to make a wish, but they may have had that wrong. It didn't come true, anyway.
 Continuing on, soon we come to a massive wooden platform, the main thing to see here. The views are pretty great. Across the valley we can see another small building, but it is completely uninteresting up close.
 No idea what that thing is that's under construction, but I have no doubt that it is very impressive. Perhaps if you go someday, you will be able to enjoy it, and then you will be able to say that you have experienced more of Kiyomizu-dera than some guy on the Internet.
 The confusing part is that there's a shrine on the grounds as well. It's past the platform, sort of off to the left. Don't miss it!
 Everybody wants to pose with this guy.
 Continue on and up the stairs, and you come to open skies, kind of.
 "Love fortune-telling stone!!" So awesome. There's two. You start at one, close your eyes, and try to walk in a straight line towards the other one. If you hit, you're in for some love-luck in the near future! You're welcome to get people to help you verbally, but if you do this indicates that you will require a middleman to make things happen for you (unless it's your lover who does it, in which case I guess your communication will improve?). But that's still better than if you miss, in which case you will be alone for at least the next three months, or break with your current partner within three months. Interesting, right? You rock, rock.
 Overlooking the front area.
 You can, of course, purchase all manner of omikuji here as well. I found these three particularly amusing, and not just because of the English - we could all use some For Against Disaster, am I right? No, I just wonder if the effects stack. It seems to me that if you're going on a road trip, these three in combination should absolutely guarantee that you will face no traffic-related disasters while travelling.

There's normal uranai, as well - Buzz Lightyear, a senpai one year my senior, pulled a Koi Uranai and got "If you don't have a partner, you will soon find one. If you do, the woman will soon be pregnant." He immediately tied it to the fence in hopes of warding it off...
 Here it is - the most famous shot in all of Kyouto! And I finally have one to call my own! I don't why that's so gratifying to me, but it totally is. And you gotta admit it's pretty. There's Kyouto Tower again, by the way. The structure itself is sort of old and rickety if you look at it too carefully, so don't. Up until about a hundred years ago, it was said that if you pitched yourself off this platform and survived the sheer drop, Buddha would grant you a wish. (You may have noticed that basically every possible human activity results in Buddha granting you a wish.) It's unfortunate that the practice is now prohibited, because I really want to try.
 The main complex as seen from across the ravine.
 If you follow the path - which you have to, because there's only one - you will go around the ravine and then down the hill, eventually arriving here. There are three streams of water here, one each to bestow upon you feminine beauty, work-related luck, or good health. Sarcastic dude that I am, it was only with great effort that I restrained myself from drinking of the feminine beauty stream. The process is the same as ever: Each hand, then drink. But you don't have to actually drink if you don't want to. It's not that clean. Maybe just smear it across your mouth and let it fall into the pond if you're not feeling it.
 The stairs will lead you basically back to where you started, but off to the side, suggesting to me that you could probably get in for free if you just did the whole route backwards. Let me know what happens if you decide to try it. Around here I was sort of gyaku-nan'd by a couple of a high school girls who wanted a picture with me. 「クールボイ!」
 Heading back down.
 No need to head straight down to the main thoroughfare, though! You're here, might as well explore a while. It's pretty cool.
 Hey, what's that in the distance?
 Whoa! It's a five-story pagoda. This is one of the things I love about living in Kyouto - you can just plain stumble upon this stuff and it's the most natural thing in the world. Some people walk past this thing on their way to work in the morning.
 Keep going, of course, and eventually the preserved olden-style touristy stuff gives way to the more modern, rundown parts of Gion. And eventually we make our way back to...

It's just about time to wrap up this modest series on Gion. In the final part, we'll see some of the little things that didn't fit, didn't warrant a whole post, or weren't very good pictures but which I want to show you anyway.

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