Monday, 27 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip - Higashiyama Temples

Today I reached my limit for dealing with tourist spots, but I saw some really cool stuff!  My first stop was Kiyomizu Temple, which wasn't much different then I remember it except too many people had selfie sticks... 

Kiyomizu Temple is another World Heritage Site.  The current building I believe dates from the Edo period some time, but the temple itself is from the 8th century.  It's one of the temples I'm interested in because it maintained one of two bridges across the Kamo River in the medieval period for pilgrims.  It's one of the 33 sites on the western pilgrimage route, which I need to look into more cause I don't know much about it other than it stopped happening for a while and then the route changed when it started back up in the Edo period.

For a fun reference, here's a 16th century version of Ushiwaka and Benkei fighting on the Gojō bridge, from the Kiyomizu Temple Pilgrimage Mandala:

I decided to go through the tainai meguri, since I've read about it and heard about it in the context of other temples before.  The concept, as I understand it, is an enactment of death and rebirth by going underneath the temple's main image in a dark tunnel.  Under the image is a seed syllable, which in the context represents salvation.  Seed syllables are Sanskrit letters that are used to represent a deity.  To my knowledge, Japanese seed syllables look a little different from continental ones.  From what I can figure out, this one represents Yōe Kannon (Skt. Parnashavari).  As a side note, the tainai meguri at Kiyomizu has been open to the public since 2000.  I don't know if that was one of the temple's older practices or not.  No, I did not take this picture, it's from the temple's website.

I'm always a bit uncomfortable participating in temple and shrine activities, because I'm doing so only as a researcher and not a believer, but it's a practice that has existed since the medieval period so I really wanted to experience it.  It was actually quite unnerving.  The tunnel is completely dark, as in you can't see your hand in front of your face dark, and all you have is the railing on the left side that you can feel.  I was nervous there would be steps or a big slope, so I pretty much shuffled the whole way through (you take off your shoes to go in).  The only light comes when you reach the seed syllable, which is on a stone that you can touch.  There are a lot of curves, and because of the dark it's really disorienting.  Depending on if you go with a group of high school boys behind you (yeah, that happened partway through), you also have no idea where anyone else is relative to you.  There is also no way of knowing how wide the "tunnel" is, unless my arms are just too short, or if it is a tunnel and not an open room.  It sounded close, but the seed syllable was set off to the right and I couldn't see a wall behind it.  I wasn't about to let go of the railing to figure it out either.

I also stumbled across Rokuharamitsu Temple, which I didn't even know existed.

This is also on the Kannon pilgrimage route.  And, it's home to this famous beauty:

Again, not my picture.  I follow the rules, but I'm not above nicking pictures from a Google search.  This statue comes up fairly frequently in Buddhist art.  It's from the Kamakura period and depicts the monk Kūya who promoted Amida (Skt. Amitabha) worship in the 10th century.  The cool thing about this statue is that instead of seed syllables, there are actual Amidas coming out of his mouth, which I believe represent the practice of nenbutsu.

I also found out more about the cow!  I'm not entirely sure if it's the same as at Kitano Tenmangū, but at Rokuharamitsu the practice is to rub the cow wherever you have maladies.

I also visited Kenninji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.

There were a few things that were really cool about this place and how it is being run.  First, you actually get to go inside and wander around pretty much freely.  You have to pay to get in, but it's definitely worth it.  There are a few places that are blocked off, but it's pretty open.  You take your shoes off at the entrance, and then there are slippers you can wear to go over to the Dharma Hall (pictured).  The rooms are more open partly because the screen paintings are replicas, so you can walk right up to them.

Another really awesome thing is they let you take pictures and video.  They actually tell you this at the front desk specifically.  I appreciate that temples and museums make a lot of money off of image copyrights, but it's still cool to be free to take your own pictures, because you find cool things like this, that aren't in the photo books they sell:

The third thing I really liked is that, in spite of the fact that the temple's fame comes from it being "the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto", they had new art on display alongside the really old art.  I thought that was really great.

Also, the ceiling of the Dharma Hall was apparently painted in 2002, and it is awesome. I grinned like an idiot when I walked in.

It goes with the art theme of the temple.  I'm not entirely sure why dragons, but it's on my list of things to find out.

I spent the rest of the day walking up the Kamo River from where I left off.  Looking at my map, I didn't have too much farther to go until I reached the mountains, but my knees and hips were done.

Some of the other cool things I saw today:
A gray heron catching his lunch.

I can't figure out what this bird is.

A rather pretty dragon fly.

There are a bunch of kites where the two rivers meet.  I thought it was a bit odd since there are still a lot of people around there, and I'm used to seeing hawks and eagles alone, never in groups like that.

I realized I didn't have any pictures of the crows.  They're so normal to see, but they're kind of hard to get pictures of around the river.

Mama and baby ducks.

A little ringed plover (子千鳥 - I really like the Japanese name for these guys!)

A falcated duck (葦鴨 - I really don't understand the English name for this.... apparently "falcate" means "hooked"...)

Lotus flowers at Kenninji.

And a lot of other pretty flowers that I have no idea what they are yet.

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