4/12/2012 (also see Nara photos)
Today is our first group tour of the trip. Peter and Tsumie took off to go hiking. We met our tour at a hotel near Kyoto Station and boarded a bus for Nijo castle, another UNESCO world heritage site. Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu built the castle in 1603 for his Kyoto residence and completed the building in 1626. This castle, an outstanding example of Edo period history and culture, is known for its 954 lavish wall paintings of the Kano school. The castle became the property of the imperial palace in 1867 (the emperor’s restoration). We viewed 33 rooms and over 800 tatami mats. We also toured the Ninomaru, the large “garden of eternal happiness” behind the castle. Kubori Enshu, the master garden designer created this garden which includes a pond and large island.
Another bus ride to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) also called the Rokuon-ji temple. Yoshimitsu built the beautiful palace in 1397, as a “retirement” project after having abdicated as shogun in 1394. The Golden Pavilion features 3 types of architecture: the fist floor is palace style, the second floor is similar to a samurai house, and the third floor is in the style of a Zen temple. The exterior walls are covered with lacquer and painted with gold leaf. A golden Phoenix sits atop the thatched roof. Keith photographed an 800 year old pine tree, the shogun planted. With gorgeous weather and setting, thousands of tourists enjoyed the shrine.
Before lunch we visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace, a 27 acre compound, formerly the site of coronation ceremonies and living quarters of Japanese emperors, who now reside in Tokyo. Many of the buildings burned down in 1788, but were rebuilt by 1854. We walked by the Kenreimon Gate, through which only heads of state are allowed to pass, and across the raked sand court yard stands the Shishinden, the most important building in the complex. Here we could just barely view the thrones of the emperor and empress. Of course another beautiful garden lies beyond the Shishinden, called the Oikeniwa with its large pond, stepping stones and arched Keyakibashi bridge.
We stopped for lunch, the only unusual taste was a Japanese meat loaf dipped in bread crumbs and deep fried.
After lunch we took the bus to Nara to view Todaii-ji temple and the Hall of the Great Buddha. The emperor Shomu first built this temple in 752. The Great Buddha’s statistics: Body = 49’, Head = 17’, Eye = 3.3’, Ear = 8.33’, Statue with Pedestal = 53’. The statue is cast from bronze and originally painted in gold leaf. Its hands date from around 1615, and the head around 1800. The Great Hall burned down at least 3 times with the most recent reconstruction around 1860. The Great Hall remains the largest wooden structure in the world.
Next we visited the shrine Kasuga Taish founded in 786 and reconstructed in 1893. The pathway to the shrine is lined with 2,000 stone lanterns, which the keepers light just twice a year, August 14th and February 3rd. The lanterns are dedicated to the Shinto gods and represent the worship of nature. It is said they help ancestors light their way back to earth. Now the shrine is reconstructed every 20 years, at a slightly new site and of new materials. The Kasuga buildings are painted vermillion and green, following Shinto style.
We met Pete and Tsumie for dinner at a local tempura restaurant.