Pure water temple

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan and that’s where we’re headed next.

It’s a perfect excuse to retrace our steps through the beautiful cobbled streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka.

These are to be found in the Higashiyama District which is one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts.

Kiyomizudera was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters.

Before we head up to the actual temple I am entranced by this man in traditional garb.

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In the temple grounds are more Japanese women dressed to the nines in traditional colourful outfits.

Kiyomizudera is best known for its impressive wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below

The stage, and the main hall, were both built without a single nail. An impressive feat of architecture.

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The famed Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them.

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Each stream is believed to have different benefits, these are long life, success at school and a happy love life.

However, drinking from all three streams is a no no as it is considered greedy.

Kiyomizudera is a busy temple that is thronged with tourists and locals alike, full of colour and interesting sights. Another that is well worth a visit.

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Shrine details

Also close to Nishiki market is the Nishiki Tenman-gū Shrine.

Although the entrance to the shrine is now rather incongruously within a covered shopping street the roots of the shrine go back to the year 1003.

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Then a temple called Kanki-ji was built, as well as a shrine to Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning, was also founded to protect the temple.

The temple and shrine were moved to the center of Kyoto as a part of the reconstruction of Kyoto by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Above these fun little wooden amulets are shaped like a plum and are called Daigan-ume.

It is said that Sugawara no Michizane loved plums, which is why these amulets are shaped like them. You pop your message inside them and hang your wish on the tree.

The god of learning, Sugawara-no Michizane, became one of the highest ranked scholars in the land, so many people visit the shrine in order to achieve academic success.

 

These cute illustrations show you clearly how to use the water for ritual purification.

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Apparently Nishiki Tenmangu is famous for its great water that runs into a stone trough.

The water quality here is so good that it’s said Nishiki Market was build close to this shrine because of it.

I’ll leave you with a few images of my favourite things – wooden Ema and the (by now) obligatory origami crane chains!!

Tiny lucky charms

Having conquered the Inari mountain and negotiated the endless winding corridors of orange Tori gates we head back into the rest of the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine complex.

There is a fascinating story attached to the origin of the shrine.

The legend goes, a rice cake was shot into the air, which turned into a swan and flew away, eventually landing on a peak of a mountain, where rice grew – this is an auspicious omen in Japan.

This led to the deity Inari Okami, the god of rice, being enshrined on the plateau and the start of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Can’t keep me away from the endless strings of cranes. I am like a magpie faced with shiny objects!!!

Then with a few final glimpses we’re off – leaving this fascinating shrine behind.

Heading for the summit

Here’s a few more snaps from the orange frenzy that is Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

Foxes (kitsune), are regarded as Inari’s messengers and can often be found with things in their mouths such as keys (for the rice granary).

The trails climb up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span four kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

We take a brief respite at Yotsutsuji intersection which is roughly half way up the mountain. It offers awesome views and cold drinks before the next section of the climb.

Although the cool little local doesn’t seem too friendly to me!

Below we can spot some more statues of Kitsune dotted between the endless Tori gates.

There are thought to be around 10,000 Tori gates in total and each one bears the name of the business or individual who donated it.

Each gate has been donated by a company or organisation giving thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future.

Finally we’ve made it to the top! I am very proud although the man mutters something about it only being a ‘little’ mountain . .  I care not, I climbed a mountain!!

Definitely take the time to visit this intriguing shrine if you’re visiting Kyoto.

It’s completely different to any others that we visited, both in scale and in visual impact. It’s an orangey delight!

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Next up on our Kyoto sight seeing hitlist is Fushimi Inari Taisha.

This incredible shrine is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and very different from the usual Japanese shrines.

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan.

The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span four kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

It is a dream like corridor of seemingly endless orange Tori gates that wind their way up the mountain.

In some places the gates are so close together that the light barely penetrates through.

Since early Japan, Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business.

At the start of the hike the temple is jammed full of eager visitors but the higher and higher you climb, the sparser the crowds become!

I’ll post a few more snaps of this jazzy orange delight, so watch this space!!

Last shrine scenes

Here’s some final pictures from the Daishoi-In Shrine on Miyajima island. This quirky little temple is chock a block with interesting sights.

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These little Buddhas demonstrate the concept of getting through life by ignoring everything!

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Within the shrine is a beautiful cave full of hundreds of lanterns. Henjokutsu Cave holds 88 principal Buddhist icons which are related to a pilgrimage route of visiting 88 temples in Shikoku.

Followers believe that they can be given the blessings in this cave instead of visiting all the temples of pilgrimage route.

In esoteric Buddhism, Dainichi Nyorai, or Cosmic Buddha, is believed to embody Buddhist philosophy, and other various Buddhist deities are incarnated in figures of Dainichi Nyorai.

There are four groups of Buddhist deities: Nyorai, Bosatsu, Myo-o, and Ten. You can find out more about them here.

Plus there’s my own personal favourites – Daruma. This is a traditional Japanese wishing doll or charmingly referred to as a “goal doll” that keeps us focused on achieving our goals!

These pop up on the wooden ema wish boards everywhere. I even took one home with me.

If you get the chance do visit Daishoi-In Shrine. It’s not as well known as other shrines on the island but well worth exploring.

Daisho-in Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine might be the most well known but it is not the only shrine on Miyajima Island. We’re off to explore one of the lesser known (but to my mind even better) shrines.

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Daisho-in is the main temple of the Shingon Buddhist school of Omuro and it’s a treat!

It is located at the foot of the thickly forested Misen. Until the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period, the head priest of Itsukushima Shrine engaged in politics here.

Above the man stands in front of the Niomon Gate. This serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate.

Nio kings are believed to ward off evil and preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

 

There are 500 Rakan Statues lining alternative steps to the temple. These are the statues of five hundred of Shaka Nyorai’s disciples and they all have unique facial expressions.

Each one of these tiny little fellas currently sports a jaunty little knitted hat.


Below are a variety of the sights to be seen including the multitude of Mani (prayer) Wheels.

Spinning the wheels is believed to invite blessings equivalent to reading one volume of the Hannya-shinkyon or Heart Sutra.

The shrine is full of different statues, some almost cartoonish.

Below are an eclectic collection including an Anpanman Statue. He’s a famous Japanese animation character and particularly popular among children.

Daisho-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temple in the western part of Japan.

The Shingon sect is known as esoteric Buddhism in Japan. The sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines.

 

The shrine is a boisterous, riotous bounty of religion, colour and cartoonish delight.

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Lot’s more of this fun shrine to come!

 

Itsukushima Shrine

We’re carrying on our exploration of Miyajima Island now and we manage to wrangle an actual snap of us together!

There’s a pretty little stretch of beach on the island that is completely empty except for us hardy Brits!

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Next up on our mooch is the pretty Itsukushima shrine where walkways seem to hover above the water.

Itsukushima Shrine is a beautiful orange Shinto shrine best known for its floating torii gate that sits out in the bay.

The shrine has been destroyed several times, but the first shrine buildings were beleived to be built in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century.

The shrine was designed and built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water, separate from the sacred island, which could be approached by the devout.

Here is the gorgeous Sori-bashi (Arched Bridge).

It is said that this bridge was also called “Chokushi-bashi” (Imperial Messengers’ Bridge) and that imperial messengers crossed it to enter the Main Shrine on important festive occasions.

The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and a noh theater stage, which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.

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Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.

To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are the terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are forbidden.

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The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto god of seas and storms, and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

As usual you can buy a range of sacred items for wish fulfilment and good luck.

These wooden paddles are something different though, I am not sure what you are supposed to do with those!

 

 

Miyajima Island

Next stop on our whistle stop tour is Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, a small island in Hiroshima Bay.

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We hopped on the JR ferry for the short trip across the bay to the island. You can get a ticket as part of the Japan Rail Pass so bonus for us!

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Just offshore, a giant, orange Grand Torii Gate stands and marks the entrance to the 12th century Itsukushima Shrine.

The Torii gate here is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views.

 

Sadly for us it’s a) a bit misty and b) being repaired so has rather unsightly scaffolding spoiling it a bit!

As well as the Torri gate, the island is also well know for its tame deer that wander the streets.

These delicate little creatures are almost totally dependant on tourists for food.

This means that they are not only fearless, but also quite persistent . .  I nearly lost our guide book to one very nibbley specimen!

Man versus spindly legged beast, it’s a tense standoff!

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A bit of general knowledge about the impressive red gate that is the symbol of the island now.

The great Torii gate is the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds.
The first Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in 1168 and was built about 200 meters offshore.

The base of the great Torii is not buried deep in the seabed, but stands by its own weight.

The sun and the moon are painted on the east and the west of the Otorii roof. Because the northeasterly direction is considered to be the demon’s gate in Feng Shui, the painted sun is said to block this demon’s gate.

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The gate is a brilliant red pigment known as vermilion and originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar.

This vermilion colour is considered to keep evil spirits away.

Next up we visit the beautiful ‘floating’ Itsukushima Shrine. Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.

Nearing Nikko

After the excitement of our first ever bullet train ride we arrive in the small town of Nikko.

Nikko itself is a fairly average Japanese town, nothing too unusual (EXCEPT IT’S IN JAPAN!)

We’re actually heading to Nikko National Park, a scenic place of natural beauty and ornate shrines.

We meander through the town until we reach one of the first tourist hot spots.

The red bridge across the swollen river at the gateway to Nikko National Park is Shinkyo – The Sacred Bridge.

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It crosses the Daiya River and belongs to the Futarasan Shrine and is known as one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan.

The bridge was registered as World Heritage in December 1999. Shinkyo measures 28 meters long, 7.4 meters wide, and stands 10.6 meters above the Daiya River.

After admiring the striking red structure for a while we head onward to our destination.

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It’s a grey day but that only seems to make Nikko even more mysterious and lush.

Ancient stone shrines are coated with verdant green moss and twists of paper wishes adorn the trees.

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Before we reach the first shrine, its presence is signalled by the obligatory wooden stalls selling good luck charms and amulets.

Certain amulets are known as omamori (お守り) They contain a small prayer inside a decorative silky cloth, they are stamped with the site’s name, and hang from a thread.

They’re for  putting on or in your phone, purse, wallet, home wall or pocket.

Above and below you can also see detail of a kumade, a wide rake made of bamboo, traditionally used to sweep the fallen leaves or grains.

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During the Edo period, people started decorating kumade with good luck charms and selling them at shrines, to help “raking in” success, wealth, safety and happiness.

Below are some more multi coloured omamori, just waiting to provide wealth, wellbeing or other good luck to a shrine goer.

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We’ve reached the magical site of Nikko now so prepare to be inundated with decorative shrines and mossy details!