やっぱり(As expected), I’m behind on posts. The time is just flying by! At this point, I have less than three weeks left in Japan. We only have about a week of classes left, then we gear up for final exams and presentations before heading to Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Tokyo for a week of sightseeing immediately prior to returning to the U.S. on July 24. What a whirlwind.
But I want to make sure that I share some of my recent sightseeing adventures with you before their memories grown dim in my mind. Last Saturday, June 26, we took a fabulous day trip to the Arashiyama and Sagano area of Kyoto’s western mountains. Despite the fact that Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s more famous sightseeing areas, it was my first time there. And I have to say, it was pretty impressive!
The trip was rendered particularly atmospheric because of a light rain that drizzled down around us throughout the day. We started the journey with a ride on the Sagano Romantic Train (嵯峨野トロッコ列車), which took us on a beautiful journey through and along the mountains. We all had assigned seats in the train, but after it started moving, most of us moved up to the front car of the train, which was open and allowed us to more fully appreciate the beautiful scenery:
The train traced along the mountain side, following rivers bursting with the newly fallen rain. Tunnels gave way to lush greenery. In the river down below, we would often catch sight of other tourists on rafting and boating excursions—how fun it looked! But the view from the train was pretty amazing as well:
Upon arrival, we split up into smaller groups for lunch. A fellow program participant’s host mother recommended a tasty okonomiyaki restaurant in the area, so we feasted upon a delicious rendition of the Kansai area specialty. Okonomiyaki is basically a savory pancake filled with all kinds of tasty things such as veggies, seafood, pork–whatever you like, really. But this place was particularly delicious:
After lunch, we walked over to Tenryū-ji, which is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It was built in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji, in memory of Emperor Go-Daigo, who died in Yoshino following the civil war that brought the Ashikaga family to power. Since its founding, Tenryū-ji has been ravaged by fires eight times, which means that most of the present buildings date only from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). However, its Zen garden retains its original 14th-century form and is a popular attraction. On a slightly less historical note, the koi in the pond are *gigantic*!
For an extra free, visitors can also see the painting of Unryūzu, the Tenryū-ji Cloud Dragon. In Zen temples, it is customary to have a painting of a dragon on the ceiling of the Hatto (Dharma Hall). The dragon is a symbol of wisdom in Asia. The original painting at Tenryū-ji was done by the great 19th-century artist Suzuki Shonen, but when the temple was restored in the 1990s, the painting was found to be beyond restoration and a new work was commissioned from Kayama Matazo. The new dragon was completed in 1997. Interestingly, it is painted in the happo-nirami style, so the dragon appears to look at the observer regardless of what direction it is viewed from. The illusion is created by the fact that the dragon’s left eye is located at the exact center of the 9-meter-wide circle surrounding the entire painting:
Picture courtesy of http://www.tenryuji.com/ (No photos allowed in the Hatto)
Anyway, after Tenryu-ji, we took a walk in the stunning bamboo grove just outside the temple’s north gate. It was truly like entering another world. Everything around us was totally green, but the bamboo stalks let the light drift through it a way that’s fairly different from your average tree-filled forest. And again, the light rain made it especially atmospheric. The pictures don’t really do it justice, but they give you a general idea:
There are dozens of shrines and temples embedded in the area, but given that our group was tired and a bit slow-moving, we didn’t get to see very many of them. One interesting stop was Nonomiya-jinja. Historically, imperial princesses who served at the Ise Shrine first resided at the Nononmiya Shrine to purify themselves where they were known as “Saigu.” A princess who was set up as a Saigu first spent at least a year undergoing purification within the Imperial Palace before moving to Nonomiya-jinja. After three years of purification at Nonomiya, she was then taken in a procession to Ise. Refernces to Nonomiya-jinja can be found in The Tale of Genji, Noh plays, waka poetry and elsewhere. This is the main entrance:
Besides its historical significance, the small shrine is famous for the kami (gods) of relationships and learning, so many women seeking a good match and many students aiming to pass exams visit here. Every shrine in Japan has its specialty, as you quickly come to find during the course of sightseeing. When you go through the gate, you see a stone called Kame No Ishi on your left–it is said that your wish will come true within a year if you touch and stroke the stone while praying. When you go to the right, you find a moss garden. At the bottom of the shrine, there is a building for seeking the grace of being blessed with a child and an easy birth.
All in all, it was an amazing amazing day of sightseeing. I am definitely going to add Arashiyama to my list of top sightseeing destinations. So, if you have a chance to visit Kyoto with me in the future, you know where you’ll be going!