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Southern Kyoto 京都の南地方

September 2, 2009

My day trip to the south part of Kyoto included three stops along the JR Nara line: Tofuku-ji, Fushimi Inari taisha, and Byodo-in.  I had been to both Tofuku-ji and Byodo-in before but there’s always something new to see.  Fushimi Inari taisha is a place I’d always been meaning to visit but never seemed to fit into my plans.


First stop is literally the first stop on the Nara line from Kyoto station; Tofuku-ji.  It had been about 7 or 8 years since I had last been and like most temples that I visit more than once, there’s always something new to discover.  This time, I discovered a couple of new (to me) gardens.  The first was in Reiun-in, a subtemple of Tofuku-ji.  The nice thing about a lot of subtemples is that they don’t draw the crowds like the main attractions so they can be a nice escape from the hordes who arrive, click and leave just to say they had actually been.  The second garden was the dragon garden within the subtemple of Ryogin-an.  The subtemple itself dates to the 14th century but the current gardens were created in 1964.  Still, that doesn’t detract from the beauty.


Next stop was Fushimi Inari taisha (shrine) is found at the base of Inari mountain.  It’s a Shinto shrine rather than a Buddhist temple so part of its fame is due to the thousands of vermillion coloured torii (gates) that go up the mountain from the main shrine, in particular the double set of torii leading to the inner shrine.  In 2011, it will be celebrating its 1300th anniversary.  Hard to believe that this shrine (like other shrines and temples in Japan) was around for about a millenium before the notion of the country of Canada was even a glimmer.


Last stop of the day was Byodo-in in the town of Uji.  If you’ve ever seen a Japanese 10 yen coin, you’ve seen Byodo-in as it’s the Phoenix hall that can be seen on the obverse side.  The site of Byodo-in actually began life as a rural villa of the Fujiwara clan in 998 but was changed to a Buddhist temple in 1052.  The Phoenix hall is the only original building remaining.  If it’s on a coin you know it’s an important structure and in 1994 it was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.  The last time I was at Byodo-in the Phoenix hall was not only closed but mostly covered by scaffolding as the 12 year restoration of gardens and buildings which was completed in 2007 was still underway.


Uji is also one of the main tea producing regions in Japan.  Since it’s difficult (and expensive) to find a good variety of Japanese tea in Hong Kong, I made sure I stocked up.  Since the roasting is done in-house by the independent sellers, walking down the shopping streets around Byodo-in is great as the smell of roasting tea is fabulous.


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