December 4 – 5, 2012
Maiko and her parents were topnotch hosts during my stay in Japan. They fed me delicious Japanese food and took me to famous temples in the area.
Before heading out to Kyoto, my wonderful hosts took me to a Japanese restaurant called Kizashi, known only to locals. I’m always amazed by the variety of dishes in Japanese cooking. We were served several courses of beautifully plated, delicious meals.
One of the lunch courses at Kizashi
Our stomachs fully satisfied, we headed for the first temple on our list: Kiyomizudera.
Cute little shops line the streets leading up to the temple proper.
Shops lining streets leading up to the temple
Kiyomizudera is located east of Kyoto. It was built in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall, which is why its name means Pure Water Temple.
The temple belongs to the Kita Hoso Sect, and was founded by the Great priest Enchin. Within the temple, are enshrined the images of Kannon, Buddhist God of Mercy and Bosatsu (Bodhi-Sattva).
The temple itself was packed with throngs of people—most of whom were school children who were out on a field trip. Maiko said that no matter the season, Kiyomizudera is always crowded, as it is one of Japan’s most popular temples.
While Maiko’s parents headed off to explore the shops nearest the temple, Maiko and I paid the 300 Y ($3) entrance fee. We made our way past the 3 Tier Pagoda toward the main temple.
3 Tier pagoda
While the temple has become a tourist attraction, it still is a place of worship. There’s a wall near the main temple where people place small wooden plaques (ema) containing their prayers or wishes. In the olden days, people used to donate horses or other animals to the shrines for good favor. Over time, this evolved into a wooden plaque with pictures of animals.
Ema, prayers and wishes left at the shrine
The temple’s most amazing feature is its veranda, which juts out from the main hall. The veranda is supported by 13 meter high wooden columns, and from it, visitors have a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below and city of Kyoto in the distance.
Columns supporting the veranda
A popular expression in Japan “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu”, is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”. In the Edo period, a tradition held that if one jumped off from the 13 meter high stage at Kiyomizu and survived, one would have his wish granted. Apparently 234 jumps were recorded during that period, and 85.4% of the jumpers survived. Of course, nowadays, the practice has been banned.
View from the veranda
After admiring the view from the veranda, we made our way to the structure housing the Otowa Waterfall below.
Otowa waterfall viewed from the top
We passed a small plaza containing shops selling various good luck charms, talismans and souvenirs, then went down a flight of steps shaded by a canopy of beautiful maple trees.
Shops selling charms, souvenirs and talismans
Steps leading down to the waterfall
At the bottom of the steps was the Otowa waterfall, whose waters are divided into three separate streams. One stream is said to grant longevity, the other stream, success at school and the final stream, a good love life. Many visitors used bamboo cups with long handles to drink the water from these streams.
Otowa waterfall’s 3 streams
After we watched a gaggle of high school kids debate on what stream they should drink from (apparently drinking from all three streams is considered greedy).
We stopped to admire a beautiful pond whose waters were filled with fallen maple leaves.
After taking pictures at a monument dedicated to Zen Master Keizan, Great Patriarch of the Soto School, Maiko and I met up with her parents at one of the sweet shops. We sampled some free green tea and various Kyoto sweets before heading out to the hotel where we would be staying for the night.
XIV is an elegant timeshare hotel, which we were lucky enough to stay in thanks to Maiko’s parents whose friends are members. The rooms were beautifully designed and spacious, and had both western beds and a Japanese room which could be a dining room in the daytime, and a futon-filled bedroom at night.
By far the most “interesting” experience I had that day was trying out the Japanese Spa. And by spa, I mean public baths. I had quite a shock entering the spa. I saw women of all shapes and sizes walking around nude in the facilities. But as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do—or in my case—when in a Japanese bath, do as the Japanese women do.
Once I got over my shyness and natural embarrassment at having to expose myself to strangers, I managed to slip into my birthday suit. Everybody went about their business, enjoying the hot pools and steam rooms without giving even me a second (or first) glance. I eased up after that, and focused on enjoying the warm bath, which was especially nice in the freezing weather.
Thoroughly relaxed (and a little more comfortable in my own skin), I dressed and followed my companions out the spa and towards the final event for the day: Dinner.
The hotel had several restaurants to choose from. Maiko’s folks picked Giovano’s, an Italian restaurant. The restaurant’s wide windows afforded us a view of the beautifully lit courtyard.
But the views were soon forgotten when the first of the five courses in our dinner set arrived. Each of the dishes were a delicious blend of both Italian recipes and Japanese ingredients.
We each picked a different dessert and had fun sampling bites from each other’s plates. And to wash down an amazing meal, we were given a choice of green tea or coffee.
5 Course Dinner at Giovano’s
It was an awesome day, to say the least and I was extremely grateful to my gracious hosts for allowing me such a wonderful experience.
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