Ah, so where was I? It's been a while ... sorry.
Picking up where I left off: after going to Tofuku-ji, I headed north towards Kiyomizu-dera. Finding the temple was somehow more difficult than I anticipated, especially as I have been there before. I was led astray by the inadvisable method of trying to follow 3 sets of directions simultaneously. In my hand, I had my iPhone and was using the Maps function. Meanwhile, I was also trying to follow the (often irregular) signage, and at the same time, following people who seemed to know where they were going. I ended up following a large group of people down a side street that I thought might be a shortcut. It wasn't. These people were all on their way to wash their family graves and leave off flowers on the tombs in a huge cemetery, this being a custom on national holidays. And so I ended up here:
That's a lotta graves. My detour didn't actually take much time and I eventually found my way to the temple.
Literally "Temple of Pure Water", Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous tourist spots in Kyoto. The most famous building consists of a large structure overlooking a small waterfall and valley. Historically, it was thought that, if you jumped from the verandah and survived, your wish would come true. According to Wikipedia, 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period, with a survival rate of 85.4%.
The temple building was constructed in 1633 and apparently contains not a single nail. They were doing some construction when I visited, unfortunately, but the upside of that was that I got to see how one does (temporary) construction with no nails...
It is spectacular in spring when cherry blossoms are blooming, and also in fall, when the leaves turn. Unfortunately I was visiting in early spring before the leaves were even out ...
Another view of the temple and the sad lack of foliage
As the name suggests, the waterfall at Kiyomizu-dera is thought to be very pure and drinking it supposedly grants good luck and/or wishes. (It seems to be an easier way to get your wish than jumping from the verandah.) I didn't try it. (The water, I mean.) The line was really long.
After Kiyomizudera, I continued north and made a brief stop at Heian Jingu. I just looked up a history of the shrine on Wikipedia, and it doesn't make much sense to me, honestly. But basically, Kyoto was the old capital of Japan, starting in 794, and the shrine was apparently built as a replica to mark the 1100th anniversary of this in 1895. But somehow it only ended up being a scale model of some original building, and then it burned down in 1976 ... I dunno. Somebody needs to rewrite that Wikipedia page! Anyway, my impressions of the shrine were, uh, a bit sterile, maybe? They could do with some more nature in there. But the buildings were very nice.
Very close to the Heian Jingu is the old Butokuden, or "Hall of Martial Virtue". This place is kind of a mecca for martial artists, so I poked my head in. As it turns out, the headmaster of a sword style called Tennen Rishin-Ryu was visiting from Tokyo and giving an afternoon training there. He actually encouraged me to try practice, which I did for a while, along with a young woman (in the right foreground, who was just anticipating watching I think, and so wasn't wearing a uniform). I was struck by the number of young women in the group. (That would be funnier if I had said "I was struck by a number of young women in the group." They look pretty fierce, don't they?) I think it has to do with a recent increase in "reki-jo", or "history girls" - young women who have become interested in history (particularly samurai history) as a result of the popular portrayals of samurai and warlords on TV and in film. Anyway, lots of girls with sticks.
I started to work up a sweat, and I still had places to be, so I made my excuses and left. It was a fun, random experience though.
Next stop: Ginkaku-ji, or the "Temple of the Silver Pavilion". This temple is a favourite of a lot of Japanese people, I think because it embodies a lot of the qualities that Japanese people themselves think of when it comes to Japanese gardens. The landscaping is busy and extremely well-controlled. There are some interesting sand-gardens, this one in the shape of a miniature Fuji. I don't know, but I would guess that it has to be painstakingly tidied up every single morning.
There is also a Kinkaku-ji ("Temple of the Golden Pavilion") that many Japanese tell me they consider to be rather gaudy (see my next entry!) By contrast, the main building at Ginkaku-ji is quite plain, although elegantly shaped.
The grounds at Ginkaku-ji are quite amazingly tended, and I took dozens of pictures there because there was just so much to look at. Unfortunately, most of the pictures didn't really convey the atmosphere well. Sometimes, I thought "Wow, look at all that amazing moss!" but then, pictures of moss aren't so impressive, are they?
By this time it was late afternoon and I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and sunburnt. So it was time to retire to my hotel for a nap, followed by dinner, and a quick trip to Yasaka Shrine, which was quite close to my hotel. On the way, I met a couple girls from Osaka who said hello to me. People from the Osaka-Kyoto part of Japan are notoriously friendly, although I think it is just the case that everyone who is not from the Tokyo area is friendly by comparison. In any case, these girls struck up a conversation with me. Here we are on the steps of Yasaka Shrine, striking a pose with some other random people. I think I thought I was doing Disco Fever, and they thought they were doing Power Rangers. Cultural differences, I suppose.
It turned out that Yasaka Shrine was having a light-show that night, so we went and took that in. The endposts of the beams in the eaves are painted white, while the building itself is dark brown / black. So projecting lights onto the side of the building creates a digital effect that was really cool. Hard to describe, but pretty amazing. Here's a video
that somebody else took and posted on YouTube!