If there’s one thing Japan has in abundance – as well as Sushi, Sake and Karaoke – is shrines, temples and pagodas and Kyoto has some of the best examples in Japan!
Japan is a country of tradition, culture and history and although most Japanese don’t identify with a single religion – rather incorporate elements of various religions known as Shinbutsu shūgō – religious ceremony, prayer and offerings are common place.
Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture, while Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century. Since then, the two religions have been co-existing relatively harmoniously and have even complemented each other to a certain degree. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist or both.
Like a lot of Japanese culture there’s a very defined way of doing things and the manners when praying at shrines and temples is no different.
Unfortunately a lot of tourists treat the shrines and temples as attractions and forget that their places of worship and religion! You’re welcome to take part in ceremonies, blessings and prayer but it’s important that you adhere to custom otherwise it’s considered rude and disrespectful and you might cause offence!
In Shinto and Buddhism it’s common to present an offering to the gods before prayer and this can take many forms including flowers, food, personal items… but – as with most things in the modern world – most commonly this means money!
Everywhere you’ll see piles of coins that have been put down as an offering or thrown into a fountain, pond or stream and it’s a good idea to keep a pile of 1, 5 and 10 YEN coins for this purpose!
There are literally thousands of temples and shrines in Kyoto and visiting all of them in 8 days is impossible!
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion was originally a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu but in accordance of his will was turned into a zen temple. The temples top 2 tiers are completely covered in gold leaf inside and out and the Golden Pavilion now has a sister Ginkakuji the Silver Pavilion on the other side of the city.
The temple sits is manicured, pristine gardens and appears to float on the lake. When you enter the grounds the first thing you notice is the vibrancy of the gold and the setting is breath-taking!
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t at it’s best and it was cloudy and grey and I can only imagine what the temple looks like in glorious sunshine!
As well as kinkakuji we visited Ryoanji Temple famed for it’s rock garden. Although the temple itself and grounds were spectacular I have to admit to being a little disappointed by the rock garden preferring the moss garden which most tourists simply ignore!
Continued in Part 2…