Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,
Kate
kate_nepveu

Japan: Kyoto day 2 (To-ji, Nishi-Hongan-ji and Higashi-Hongan-ji) and Himeji

A really great day today (Tuesday).



We started by walking to Tô-ji, which has a famous five-story pagoda, which is indeed five stories and a pagoda. It also has a very nice set of 21 Buddhist statues, a number of attractive buildings set among gardens, and--the reason we went today--a big, lively monthly market. I bought not one but two shaved ices, which are fabulous summer walking-around food; a little towel to mop my sweaty face (which may or may not make me cooler, but makes me feel a lot better. I was so sweaty by halfway through the day that I had little salt crystals on my arms and legs.); and a few gifts. Chad had fried stuff: little fried fish, and fried octopus balls, which are an Osaka speciality according to an Anthony Bourdain show we saw, but seemed perfectly good Kyoto fair food. I really enjoy markets like this generally, but this was particularly good because it was both recognizable and different. Great fun and recommended.

Then we walked to Nishi-Hongan-ji and Higashi-Hongan-ji, which are rival temples of the same sect located several blocks apart. (On the way from one to the other, we took narrow back streets, which was an interesting change of pace.) Both are currently under heavy renovation and so only one of their buildings are open: Amida Hall at Nishi-Hongan-ji, and whatever-isn't-Founder's Hall at Higashi-Hongan-ji (Founder's Hall is the one that required women's hair to be woven into ropes to lift its massive beams). Both of these are beautiful and ornate. And if you come into Nishi-Hongan-ji from the back, there's a really neat Chinese-style gate. However, I wouldn't go out of my way to see them until the restorations are done.

Higashi-Hongan-ji is right around the corner from the station, so we had lunch there, way way *way* upstairs in "The Cube," a conglomeration of several restaurants. Oddly, despite at least two maps, we were unable to locate the soba place we'd picked out, but had a very nice (though slightly more expensive) meal of fried fish and seafood. And lots of water.

Then the train to Himeji to see the famous castle there, which is huge and has been very thoughtfully set up for tourism: the explanatory signs were plentiful and almost all translated into excellent English, and the many sets of stairs were spaced out as much as possible. (The main tower is six stories and on top of a big hill. There are a *lot* of stairs. And the ones into the main tower are hard wood, narrow, steep, and navigated in socks. I went down these _very_ slowly, because it was the end of a long day.)

There's lots of interesting architectural stuff, which is most usefully discussed with reference to pictures, so it'll wait. Instead, have two anecdotes:

* One of the remaining buildings was the domain of Sen-hime, granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Here's what Chad's favorite Japan guidebook, _Gateway to Japan_, by Kinoshita and Palvesky, has to say about her:

"Sen-hime's first marriage, to Toyotomi Hideyori, ended in disaster: Hideyori committed suicide within Ôsaka Castle as her grandfather's forces set fire to it. Her own life was in grave danger, and it is said that Ieyasu called out that any man who saved her could have her hand. But once she had been resuced, Ieyasu changed his mind and married her off to Honda [in charge of the castle; her dowry paid for its expansion to its present form]. The jilted would-be bridgegroom threatened to abduct Sen-hime from the wedding procession, but Ieyasu arranged to have him dispatched, permanently. Honda died when Sen-hime was only 35, and she returned to Edo to live out a long life. By popular account, her short-lived marriages left her sexually insatisable, and she is said to have taken to accosting the men who passed in front of her home."

(The brochure Chad bought as a souvenir states that she married a third time, and omits mention of the "popular account." The labels in the castle also give the strong impression that Sen-hime and Honda had a storybook-happy marriage.)

* Toward the end of the tour route is a well which a maid named Okiku was thrown down. According to the sign, she overheard plots against her lord, and so the plotters accused her of breaking a plate, for which she was put to death. Her ghost could be heard counting the plates despairingly, but stopped when the plotters were eventually defeated in battle.

Anyway, highly recommended--it's about an hour from Kyoto on the Shinkansen (let me say again how awesome the trains here are), and then a moderate walk down a single street (lined with a number of bronze nudes, for some reason not apparent to those who don't read Japanese). Quite doable in a half-day, as we did.

So really an excellent day, though tiring. I'm writing this Tuesday night after dinner, and will post it Wednesday morning; and now I'm taking a nice hot long bath to loosen up my leg muscles, all of which hate me.

ETA: pictures from this day at http://pics.livejournal.com/kate_nepveu/gallery/00037730
ETA2: Chad's full Flickr sets for this day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/11070535@N08/sets/72157601953119698/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/11070535@N08/sets/72157601962767875/



Oh, and FWIW, I'm getting online once a day, checking email, posting, and responding to a few comments--I'm not reading blogs or LJ at all. If this changes when we get to Yokohama on Sunday, I'll let you know.
Tags: japan 2007, trips
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