Finally, after my previousstops in Kyoto, I came to the Kitano Tenmangu shrine. This shrine is noted for being dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a notable scholar who passed over 1000 years ago from manhood to godhood, and was deified. As a result, thousands of hopeful scholars come here to make their prayers and buy good luck charms to increase the effectiveness of their study – from middle school to university students.
There are numerous facts about Kinkaku-ji which make it remarkable. Firstly, it’s fairly old, at just over 700 years since its completion. Then, it was nearly burned down in the Onin war in 1466-67, but was spared by the attackers, who razed every other building in the area. Then in the 1950s, it was actually burned down by one of its own monks who suffered from severe mental and emotional problems. Perhaps more remarkable is the beautiful garden surrounding it, with a serene pond teeming with Koi. Or perhaps it’s the way it’s constructed in three different architectural styles – one for each floor.
But likely it’s most notable trait is that the majority of the temple is sheathed in real gold. Which tends to stick out, as features go.
As Kyoto is historically the seat of imperial power for a sizeable period of Japanese history, it has amassed a plethora of noteworthy temples, memorials, shrines, and attractions. from the zen gardens of Ryoan-ji to the golden temple of Kinkaku-ji (of which I will write more later) to a stretch of train line that in Cherry Blossom season is walled on both sides by curtains of blooming pink blossoms, the city has many things to see. One such thing I had never heard of outside of Japan was Arashiyama Monkey Park. On what would be my final trip inside of Japan, I travelled to Kyoto and saw several sights. The monkey park was definitely unique.
In the town of Sakai rests some very peculiar sorts of burial mound. It’s peculiarity lies not only in their immense size but also in the shape of it. These ancient giant burial mounds, the clinical name for which is Tumulus and the Japanese word for which is Kofun, are shaped like Keyholes. The largest of these is Daisen Kofun, which at 110 acres is reckoned the largest grave in the world by surface area.
So February 14th arrived, as it tends to, and Valentine’s day began in Japan about 17 hours ahead of the rest of my friends and family.
In Japan, they celebrate Valentine’s day a bit differently. While in North america it’s typically a day for already existing couples to go do something special and exchange gifts, as well as prospective couples to send a thoughtful card, or some flowers and chocolates to one another, typically the bulk of the gift-giving is expected of the man. In Japan, however, it’s the women – and EXCLUSIVELY the women – who give out chocolates on Valentines day. That’s right, on February 14th, a man in japan just gets to sit back and let the chocolate come to HIM.
Ryoan-ji is one of the more famous zen Buddhist temples in Japan, known for its well-maintained rock garden and beautifully appointed garden. The temple lies on the northwestern edge of the city of Kyoto, which was the country’s Capital and home of the imperial seat of power from 794 to 1868, though it was called Heian-kyo at the time rather than Kyoto. This city is known throughout Japan as having a very traditional Japanese aesthetic, and sensibilities. The manners of the people in the city are so extreme that it was once described to me thusly: “Kyoto is a place that hides behind society’s mask, where they will ask if you would like a second cup of tea when really they want you to leave.”
Sumiyoshi-Taisha, or ‘Sumiossan,’ as it’s often known by the locals, is one of the largest Shinto shrines in Japan. And though it is not the oldest in the country, it is considered to be the central Shinto shrine in the entire country – and therefore the world. Though Japanese Buddhism and Shinto beliefs have a lot of crosstalk as far as imagery is concerned, the differences in the primary beliefs are vast and significant. Most notable, Shinto beliefs don’t incorporate Buddha, but rather Kami, which can be a god, a spirit, or a divine essence, depending on the context. And despite the importance the religion places on connection to the natural world – or perhaps because of it – this grand shrine, the primary home of Shinto, sits in the middle of the urban sprawl surrounding Osaka.