Monday, July 25, 2011

Japan tour - Day 6 and 7

Shrines, temples, geishas

Kyoto was the former capital Japan, where the emperor lived from 794 to 1868. It’s now the cultural capital of Japan. Japan has two major religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. And interestingly most people are both Shintos and Buddhists, and many of also Christians!

That’s what people are if one looks at the customs they follow: the naming ceremony of a child is a Shinto one; most marriages are largely Christian ceremonies; and when one dies, there’s a Buddhist ceremony. So, it’s very difficult to find out to which religion a Japanese person belongs to! There are around 1,600 Buddhist temples and 360 Shinto shrines in Kyoto.

Ninjo Castle

Saw many shrines and temples. One of them was Ninjo Castle. It was the home of the first one of the Shogun rulers in 17th century. During their rule, all administrative and military power was with the Shoguns, the emperor was just a reverential figurehead. Just like the PM- President relationship.

In 19th century, when the Shoguns handed power back to emperor, the castle became the property of the imperial family. It was later donated to the Kyoto city administration and renamed Nijo Castle.

While in a Buddhist temple the deity is obviously Lord Buddha, in a Shinto shrine, there’s no one particular deity. The shrines are where the Shinto god or the kami resides. People come to shrines to pay respect to the kami and also pray for good fortune, that may be related to any aspect of life.

The sacred objects of worship are kept in a chamber and it’s not visible to the devotee. This is unlike the statue of Buddha in a temple that is visible to everyone. The kami represents Nature and there are thousands of shrines dedicated to many Shinto gods.

Exam shrine

For example, the Kitano-tenmangu shrine is one that is associated with education and there is a huge rush of students before examinations. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician, who was exiled by his rivals.

There were a number of disasters after his death. The shrine has been built to appease his soul. This scholar Michizane is associated with the Shinto god of education.

India connection

We next went to Sanjusangen-do temple. There are 1,001 statues of arranged on a slanting raised platform, which is an amazing sight. 124 of them are original and the rest were made when the temple was renovated, after a fire destroyed the temple in 1266.

There is an India connection here. There are 28 statues of guardian deities which are Hindu gods placed in front of the 1,001 statues of Buddha. The temple hall is 120 meters, the longest wooden structure.

Find your love luck

From here, we headed to Kiyomizudera temple. It’s up on a hill from where we get a good view of Kyoto. Behind the temple’s main hall is the Jishu shirine, dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking.

In front of the shrine are two stones placed 18 meters apart. It’s said that if you can walk blindfolded from one stone to the other, then you will successfully find a love. If you can’t find the stone, and you need assistance of another person, then it means you will need an intermediary to find your love.

3-Stream Waterfall

At the base of the Kiyomizudera is Otowa waterfall. There is a raised platform over which water flows in three streams. People walk up to the platform, drink water from one of the streams using a long spoon (cup).

Water from each of the stream is said to have a different benefit: one for scholarship, one for love and the third for longevity. You are not supposed to drink water from more than one stream. The cups, after use, have to be tucked back into an ultraviolent cleanser.


Kyoto is also the place where you find geishas. They are not prostitutes as some people think. They are professional entertainers. It’s tough to be a geisha. Girls have to undergo tough and strict five-year training. Lots of girls, unable to withstand the rigour, drop out.

They learn dance and music and other art forms. Their job is entertain guests with performance arts and conversation. The geisha dinners take place typically in tea houses. It’s a very secluded, private and expensive party.

It’s not easy to walk into these places. You need a recommendation from an existing customer. Customers are not usually billed at the end of the dinner. Instead all the costs are added up and deducted every month in equal instalments from the customer’s bank account.

In Kyoto there are 200 geishas. There are also apprentice geishas, who can be distinguished from the fully trained geisha by the way a particular knot at the back is tied. There are also fake geishas, who are merely dressed up as geishas, just encourage to tourists.

They can be spotted fleeting across streets, and tourists merrily photograph them, and go back with the satisfaction of having seen a geisha. Unfortunately, because of lack of time, I couldn’t see any geisha, though I did see many people dressed up in kimonos. But everyone dressed in kimono is not a geisha, though a geishas wears kimono.

After an overdose of shrines and temples, I headed back to Aino, three stops after Sanda, to see a local festival. Residents of the area had gathered at a large ground. There were many entertainment stalls and eateries around. There were games, music and dance performance. One of them very much resembled Garbha dance during Navratri.

Interestingly, a group of software engineers from Kerala working in that area put up a food stall. There were chicken, samosas, pappadams and payasam. It was a run-away hit with all items being sold out very fast.

Quite exhausted, there is hardly any energy left to pack by baggage. My Japan tour has come to an end – leaving tomorrow, from Kansai airport back to Bangalore via Bangkok by Thai Airways.

Day 7 – July 24

Left Sanda for a station near Osaka by train. From there took a Kansai Airport Bus. Left Kansai at 11.45 am. Reached Bangkok at 3.15 pm. The connecting flight was at 9.20 pm. There was lots time to roam around.

I was dumbstruck at the beauty and expanse of the Bangkok airport. Hundreds of shops. But what is most striking is the landscaping. Never seen an airport more beautiful than this – floats and statues that depict Thai culture and tradition. An amazing work. You really don’t know whether to shop or just admire walk around admiring the beauty of the artistic works.

Back in Bangalore at 11.30, last night.

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