Rising early the next morning (5:15, at latest), our tour took us over to the Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple and an UNESCO World Heritage Site situated east of Kyoto. Considering its high status, it would of course be packed with tourists by 9:00, so we sloughed off the early-morning drowsiness to beat the crowds before then.
The sun was already up as we took separate taxis from our hotel to the temple—in fact, it’d been up since 5:00, which meant we didn’t have to wait until it got light enough to see the temple. It was already looming over us, perfectly visible, once we made it to the site.
Weather wasn’t in our favor at all: the rain hung over us (and our umbrellas) as we tried to listen to our tour guide explain the history and architecture of the Kiyomizu-dera. Situated in a hilly district of Kyoto, the temple was first conceived in the eighth century but its current building having just started in the seventeenth century. It’s named after the waterfalls surrounding it, the clear water flowing throughout the temple’s grounds.
What makes the Kiyomizu-dera distinctive is the fact that not a single nail was used to build it—instead, large wooden logs were hollowed out before being stacked on top of each other in crisscrossed fashion, sort of like Lincoln logs. Quite the ingenious way of building a temple, eh? Not only that, but I could also imagine that it would be more stable, let alone supportive, to prevent it from easily succumbing to natural disasters like earthquakes or floods.
Another fun fact (well, maybe not-so-fun) is that, during the Edo Period, it was a tradition to jump off the temple’s 13-meter platform, as the Kiyomizu-dera is built elevated from the ground. If people survived the fall, then their wish would come true—apparently, survival statistics were rather high (85 percent, surprisingly), but obviously, the practice is prohibited today. Understandably so, for safety reasons; even if it were still legal, I wouldn’t dare to try anyway!
We spent an hour walking through the temple and its grounds. The interior of the Kiyomizu-dera was rather plain in design, but then again, it was a Buddhist sanctuary, not a flashy art exhibition. We also wrapped around the grounds and came across the Otowa-no-taki, a waterfall where visitors could drink the water for health, longevity, and overall luck. There were several long-handled cups behind the waterfall, so my family and I lined up for our opportunity to catch water and drink it—the water was clean and while I take some superstitions with a grain of salt (not all, but some), I found the whole idea of it extremely mindful, not to forget pure.
Returning to our hotel at 7:00, we had breakfast before heading out again to start our second day in Kyoto proper. Our tour guide took us on a tranquil (albeit humid) stroll along the Takase-gawa, a canal constructed during the Edo Period as means of transporting goods to the city center. The canal is also meant to be a picturesque place where one could see cherry blossoms with the peaceful waters, although we were there in the summer and didn’t see them in bloom. Unfortunately, the overcast and rainy weather that day didn’t make the Takase-gawa look as charming as it could’ve been, but all the same, its neighborhood was home to a bunch of small, charming wooden houses that we admired as we made our way to the next destination for the day.
We headed over to Maruyama Park, a popular spot for tourists to see cherry blossoms when in-season. Again, we visited in the summer, so no cherry blossoms (apparently, they have a very short blooming period, from February to May), but all the same, we had a coffee break at a tea house within Maruyama before continuing to the Higashiyama district, which is actually very close to the Kiyomizu-dera—we essentially made a big loop around a part of the city.
Rather than being on a flat, leveled surface, the Higashiyama is instead staggered with multiple flights of stairs and narrow streets which also contain the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, two notable lanes of souvenir shops, eateries, and touristy attractions on the second and third levels, respectively. Climb up a flight of stairs and you’re *technically* in a different district!
Our tour guide gave us some free time to explore before lunch, so my family and I wandered the small streets, popping into several stores selling items from dried plums to colorful coin purses. We bought a few of those souvenirs and had just enough time to check out a Totoro-themed store (which brought back childhood memories watching Studio Ghibli films) before we had to reconvene with the tour group for lunch. We ate at a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant, where it served spaghetti, warm bread rolls, and matcha chiffon cake for dessert. I basically had to roll myself out the door afterwards, just because I was incredibly full. We headed back to our hotel where we rested for a little bit before heading out once more in the afternoon to explore the shopping district of Kyoto.
Mind you, I wasn’t feeling very well as we toured the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping districts, due to the combination of having just had a heavy lunch, the summer heat, and *erm* “that time of the month” cramps. Granted, I tried putting on my game face to brave the discomfort, but in the end, I just got a cheesecake-flavored frappuccino from Starbucks (apparently a seasonal flavor in Japan—pretty tasty, too!) and headed back to the hotel to crash. Didn’t go out for the rest of the day, as I was trying to recover from the discomfort. Usually, I’m pretty good when it comes to traveling and not getting sick, but alas, it got to me that day—thankfully, after a long overnight rest, I was able to pick myself back up the following day, good as new.
That day would be our last in Kyoto, before we headed out the next day for our final destination on our eight-day guided tour of Japan. While it was a bummer that I couldn’t fully take advantage of my time due to feeling unwell, at least I got to see most of the sites and attractions of the city. Sometimes, it’s okay to know when to take a break, as well as not push your limits, even with a tight travel schedule. In a sense, it makes you stronger, not to forget more able, to continue with the next leg of your journey.
Final post on Japan to come soon. Next up: Nara Park & Osaka, Japan!