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Visiting The Temples And Shrines Of Central Kyoto Near Kyoto Station
If you want to spend a day exploring the lower area of central Kyoto, the best place to start is just outside of Kyoto station. Even though the station is considered a tourist attraction all on its own, for this day trip, you’ll be heading away from the station to visit a different area. Instead of visiting the station, you’re going to make your way from Kyoto station to the Kyoto tower and the wonders beyond. From temples to cozy restaurants and shopping opportunities, this region has it all.
Not only can you spend an entire day in the region, but you can walk to most of the important points along the way. Make sure you are wearing comfortable walking shoes before you walk from the station to the tower (about 2 minutes) and head off along to the Buddhist temple complexes known as Nishi (West) Hongan-ji and Higashi (East) Hongan-ji. Both are within a city block of one another and are a must-see for any day trip to the area.
Nishi-Hongwan-ji (Western Temple of the True Vow): Address: Hanaya-cho sagaru, Horikawa-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto City, 600-8501
Just a short, approximately 7 minute walk from Kyoto tower, is the Western Temple of the True Vow. Nishi-Hongwan-ji is the older of the two temples within this two block radius, and was founded in 1272. Although the followers of Shin Buddhism followed the teachings of a more basic form of Buddhism that was very popular with the less fortunate in Japan, the building itself, was designed to impress. Its structure is breathtaking in scope – a perfect example of architecture from the Azuchi-Momoyama-period (1573-1603).
The complex is made up of five buildings. Enter through the gold trimmed gates into halls filled with painted statues and gilded, flower bedecked altars. The study (Shoin) features a number of rooms whose names reflect their decorative flourishes: Chrysanthemum Chamber, Sparrow Chamber and Wild Geese Chamber. The main building is exceptionally beautiful but even more powerful is the Daisho-in hall. It is a delight with its metal ornamentation, sumptuous carvings and rich paintings. Be sure to visit the oldest Noh stage in Japan that is connected to the hall and within the small garden - the (Kokei-no Niwa) that is connected to the Daisho-in hall. Here, you will find, besides the two Noh stages, a tranquil world of cycad palms and a large tea pavilion. Sit down and enjoy a close look at the Chinese gate (Karamon) before heading over to the “rival” Buddhist temple – the Nishi-Hongwan-ji. This is about a five minute walk.
Nishi-Hongwan-ji can be reached in an 18-minute walk from Kyoto Station.
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Higashi Honganji (Eastern Temple of the True Vow): Address: Karasuma Shichijo-agaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto City, 600-8505
This Jodo Shin-Shu (True Pure Land) Buddhist temple consists of several architectural treasures. Originally constructed in the seventeenth century, it was rebuilt in 1895 and has been renovated in 2009 and 2012. Particularly worth a visit are the lavish, traditional wooden Founder’s Gate and the immense Founder’s Hall (Goei-do). The latter is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. It hosts an image of the sect’s founder, Shinran Shonin, intricately carved from wood.
This temple is one of the most inclusive of all the various Buddhist sects in Japan and is made up of vast interiors on which lie 927 tatami mats. Do not miss Amida Hall (Amida-do), which is found down a long passageway running from the Founder’s Hall. This hall displays the Amida Buddha – the Buddha of the Western Pure Land.
Higashi Honganji can be reached in a 12-minute walk from Kyoto Station.
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Before you reach the first Buddhist temple on your walking trip, you should take the time to wander through the Shosei-en Garden, also known as Kikoku-tei (the Trifoliate Orange Villa). This lovely garden, although detached from its temple, is about 10 minutes from nearby Higashi Honganji and was designated in 1936 as a “national scenic beauty.” At one time orange trees surrounded the temple and its structures, which date back to Heian-period (794-1185). Many of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1858 and 1864. Those that currently remain, including tea-ceremony houses, date only from the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Shosein-en Garden is a Chisen-Kaiyu-Shiki teien (pond stroll garden). Depending upon the season, your senses will be struck by the luscious scents and luxurious looks of this spacious garden. Note the vermilion bridge but mainly relax among the fruit and bonsai trees and watch the ducks, herons and water lilies on the small lake while contemplating where to head next.
Shosei-en Garden can be reached in a 11-minute walk from Shichijo Station.
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