Kyoto is a city in central Japan, and the word, “Kyoto,” means “Capital City.” Tokyo means “Eastern Capital,” and for about a thousand years, from 800 AD until 1868, Kyoto was the seat of Japan’s Imperial Court. This has created a greater sense of Japanese historical culture than you get in Tokyo. Tokyo is full of what might be considered modern Japanese culture–anime, electronics, industry, etc. while Kyoto feels more full of history, despite the fact that it was ravaged by serious wars throughout its tenure as the capital of Japan.
We visited Kyoto to see and appreciate it, and had a wonderful visit. We started out with Kinkakuji Temple–an amazing golden temple that was originally built as a dude’s house, which is literally plated in gold. After the original builder died, his kid converted it to a temple for Zen Buddhism. For us, it was a fun park to walk around and think about how greedy we’d all like to be and wonder how hard it would be to melt the gold off the building so we could put it in a vault and swim around like Uncle Scrooge. We explored, made a few coin tosses, and rang some bells to let the spirits know we had arrived and were making a prayer.
After that, we hit up Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, which is actually just the first of a bunch of shrines that go up a mountain, accessed by paths covered with Torii gates–the traditional Japanese red-pillared gates. Inari is the God of Rice, and also of business, both of which make him/her/it a pretty popular diety in Japan (Inari is represented as male, female, and androgynous.) When a business is successful, it’s considered good behavior to build a Torii at a shrine to Inari, and Fushimi is one of the most popular spots to do so. It was pretty fun to run up and down and pause at the various shrines as we hiked up the mountain.
I honestly don’t remember this part, but at some point, Betsy and I must have gotten tired of carrying the kids around and offered to let them take a nap in a locker. Who would pass on something like that?
After Fushimi, we rented some bicycles so we could ride over to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, an awesome Buddhist temple that is nicknamed the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas. The poor thing has been destroyed half a dozen times since it was first built, and moved uphill every time they rebuilt it, trying to keep it from further damage. We only had to ride our bikes about 12 km, but it was up a mountainside, and we all had excuses–the boys were young and Betsy and I had the girls in the kiddie seats behind us. We made it, though, and had a really fun time exploring and laughing about the little statues–they’re called Raken and actually represent Buddha’s disciples, and are generally humorous in design. There’s over 1,200 of them at this temple and we enjoyed pretending to be Raken.
The trip concluded with a hike up Monkey Mountain. It’s a hill that is a habitat for a troop of monkeys and at the top, there’s a cage that people can get into and you’re allowed to hand food out through the bars of the cage to the monkeys. Food isn’t allowed anywhere else on the mountain, because if the monkeys see it, they’ll chew your face off to get it, and give you rabies and lice and stuff. It was really fun, but also kind of freaky, because sometimes they would fight and you realize that they’re phenomenally agile, wiry, and full of sharper and longer teeth than you want around your kids.