The Kansai Episode: No Recovery For Old Men

The night lit twilight sky of a cloud autumn’s evening heralds the coming of winter.

No thanks to a congestion that had started a third into our journey and lasted all through our destination, we got off nearly three-quarters of an hour later.  Our first pit stop? Kiyomizu Temple. The ancient institution is perhaps one of the most famous sights in the city in large part due its significance to one of the most desired quality traits, and the fact that this site was one of the twenty-one finalists for the new Seven Wonders of the World. Kiyomizu-dera was left out of the final seven, but its candidacy has certainly helped its reputation amongst the lesser known non-Japanese. Still, it has been accorded a place as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji, Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Although the temple was founded in 798, the present building didn’t come to being until it was commissioned in 1633 by Tokugawa Iemitsu – the royal who in the Japanese’ eyes, “limited”, rather than “shut down”, the nation’s interactions with the outside world to just four barely noticeable channels. Dejima Island, a manmade island off Nagasaki for the Dutch East India Company to do business “in Japan”, Satsuma Domain (present day Kagoshima) for the vassal state of the Ryuku Kingdom (consisted of Okinawa, Taiwan and Micronesia), Tsushima Domain (a mostly inhabited island midway between Japan and Korea) for the vassal state of the Joseon Dynasty, and Matsumae Domain to handle the affairs of the Ainu tribes in northern Japan and Hokkaido. Kiyomizu takes its name from the waterfall which the complex encases. It is an engineering feat for the fact that there isn’t a single nail in the entire structure, and the temple has stood unscathed since its completion 5 centuries ago. The Japanese equivalent of “leap of faith” in fact, references Kiyomizu, “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” where pilgrims during the Edo period, used to leap off the complex’s balcony. If they survive the 13 metre jump, their wishes will be granted. Miraculously, most off the faithful 234 have survived. These days, your wish can be easily granted: just catch and drink from either of the three channels of water flowing into a pond.

Interesting figurines.

Wedding photos?

An attempt at being artistic.

Convincing tourist traps line our journey to Kiyomizu temple.

Kyoto city below.

The money shot.

But there’s a greater reason why Kiyomizu attracts the crowds – love. The Jishu Shrine, located with the grounds, is dedicated to Okuninushi, god of love and good matches. The Shrine has a pair of love stones spaced 6 metres apart where singles can walk in between with their eyes closed. If they approach the other stone, the individual will find love, or true love. You can be assisted, but it implies that you’ll require some twist of fate, or some form of peer intervention to meet one’s true love. If your current love interest helps you reach the stone, that’s good news too. The scenes, combined with the raking browns, reds and oranges, made for quite a dramatic sight during the day. But the hostel keeper and her assistant assured us that the view would be better at night. So after politely escorting the day’s crowd out, the lines began for the night’s. While we waited out the temple’s reopening, we joined hundreds others in the dozens of souvenir and traditional sweets’ shops.

Most offer tea and samples, which visitors exploit and sometimes do in the end give in to consumerism in the whole spirit of hustle and bustle. Many line up for the “Kiyomizu exclusive” sweets, such as the Hojicha Kit-Kat, and more traditional Japanese sweets. For the most part, I don’t bite, but Malebranche tickles my fancy. The store’s signature, Green Tea White Chocolate Biscuits are world-renowned. It’s already an hour after closing – they do this only for the autumn season, to cater to the crowds visiting Kiyomizu at night – but they’re biscuits have all but run out. “Sorry, we’ve run out. We’ve a limited daily stock”, a sales staff apologizes to me in fairly comprehensible English. We continue to explore the myriad of retail and dining options. Shortly after I down a Chinese style Green Tea Paste Bun, we join the stretching queue. It’s long, I’ll give it that, but it’s constantly in the state of flux.

The canvas that greets us at the previously calm and recluse entrance is one of awe and majesty. The details and architecture of the towers and pagodas now illuminated and enhanced, with a striking flood light beam striking the night sky above us. Underneath, a sea of hundreds, perhaps thousands even moving in organized chaos, with young volunteers policing the rough seas, and keeping the order in tact, and the flow, moving. It’s another JPY 500 to enter, and the collection is all done manually, swift and kept that way. Fumbling through my coin pouch under the cover of darkness was no easy task, I assure you. Once within the complex, it’s crowded and tedious – everybody wants a photo opportunity everywhere, there’s a volunteer keeping the traffic flowing and moving, but it all works out. In such a situation, you just keep shooting – you don’t really have time to think, except to hope that hopefully, one of these shots will come out beautifully.

Crowds building up.

Fascinating detail.

The autumn leaves look more beautiful at night.

Awww… I didn’t actually mean to shoot this. I wanted a better shot of the lighted trees from the previous picture, but these two lovebirds suddenly appeared.

View towards the city.

So that’s where the beam of light’s coming from.

The whole deluge doesn’t end after the temple’s exits. The night’s coming to an end, and everybody’s heading back to their accommodation. In our rush to get out, we hop onto the bus back to Kyoto Station where we have a decent meal at Kyoto Station’s underground mall.


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