Time honoured temples

June 6, 2015

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Quite a common phrase when travelling around Asia is: “templed out”. What’s good to do here then, another temple, oh ok, maybe i’m good. There’s just so many and let’s be honest guys, they are kind of similar. These ones however, are well worth a look as they were so different.

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This is part of the craziness at Fushimi-Inari Taisha. It was built in dedication to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century; food and alcohol. Nice choice.

As agriculture became uncool, and business took over, they conveniently introduced a deity to the temple complex to ensure that they were prosperous. Convenient. The messenger of Inari is the fox and there are many statues of foxes dotted all over the mountain, the fox is god of the rice (business) harvest. Traditionally seen as a sacred, mysterious figure able to posses humans. Scary.

The statues are mean looking most of the time.

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 It gets kind of eerie in the late afternoon light.

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The shrine gates like this are pretty continuous right from the bottom to the top of the mountain.

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It’s about 4km to the top and back apparently and there are up to 32,000 small shrines dotted around the place. They are a great shade of orange.

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The path consists of two looped walkways with steps and gates; one halfway up and the other at the top. This can make things slightly confusing and we took what we thought was a slight detour but we actually ended up in the middle of the forest in a secluded shrine area. It was nice to look back on, but not so much when we thought we were lost.

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The great thing about this area is you can get to it on the Keihan line from Sanjo station in the middle of the city. There are so many places to get completely away from the city atmosphere in Kyoto, this place felt unique and in another universe.

The second of these old and amazing temples is the ‘Temple for Abandoned Souls” called Adashino Nembutsu-ji. It was more of an area in which abandoned paupers or destitutes without a next of kin were buried. Well it says in the guide book that they were gathered, i’m not really sure what that entails. In fact, having looked into it further, it is where people abandoned bodies of the deceased, exposing them to the wind and the rain. So they were never actually buried.

To get to this area of Kyoto is a little more tricky than most areas however we wouldn’t describe it as hard. You need to go to either Osaka or Nijo station and change for the JR line to Sagarashiyama. From there you can either take a local train or walk 20 minutes to the popular Tenryū-ji where you’ll see the touristy bamboo grove area, and also a stunningly beautiful garden. It is well worth the extra half an hour through quiet little villages to get to Adashino Nembutsu-Ji. There’s an almost empty bamboo grove there which is identical to the touristy one.

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The most astonishing thing about this temple though is that, from all around the surrounding hillsides, they collected lots of little statues of the Buddha and placed them all together in the middle of the temple complex.

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To imagine these statues nestled into the hillsides by unmarked graves gives us a chill.

They’re so old that most of the detail has rubbed off.

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There’s a really cool statue of a monk in the temple covered in moss.

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The temple was founded in 811 AD. and it really feels like the land that time forgot. This is the sign for the exit.

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There’s a famous Japanese proverb that includes the dew of Adashino in reference to the place where people go when they die, to be exposed to the elements:

If people were to never fade away like dew of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke rising over Toribeyama, then how powerless would everything be to move us.
The most precious thing about life is it’s uncertainty.