For my second full day in Japan, we decided to go off the beaten path and go to the Eikando Temple on the eastern edge of Kyoto. I’m so glad we did! It was awesome seeing Fushimi Inari the day before, but the tourism of the shrine detracted from feeling the spirituality of the shrine, except in a few isolated areas on the mountain. Eikando Temple, on the other hand was definitely a spiritual place.
The temple was originally founded as a different sect of Buddhism, but the seventh head monk, Eikan (1033-1111) started to shift the temple towards what would become the Jōdo-shū sect. Eikan had a vision of the Amida Buddha while doing his rounds. Buddha looked back at him, telling him “Eikan, you are late!” The Buddha statue in Eikando Zenrin-ji shows Buddha in this rare “looking back” pose.
There were very few other visitors at Eikando Zenrin-ji. We probably only ever had three or four other guests in sight while we were there. Before entering the temple, we decided to look around the grounds. The gardens were absolutely beautiful! There were koi and turtles in the pond and a bridge that took us closer to the temple itself. I wish I could see it sometime in the autumn when the leaves are changing colors.
We also climbed up to the pagoda where we were able to catch a view of Kyoto. Between Fushimi Inari and those stairs, we got plenty of exercise in Kyoto!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
After Eikando Zenrin-Ji, we headed to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. You would think a bamboo grove would be peaceful but the entrance was filled with tons of tourists. We saw far more white tourists as the bamboo grove than we did at any other site in Kyoto (except maybe the train station). Fortunately, once we got deeper into the grove the crowds started to fade away. We also discovered a smaller grove with lots of baby bamboo shoots, and a perfectly still lake that reflected the scenery around it.
We spent that last night in Kyoto at a traditional Japanese inn (called a Ryoken). The Ryoken we stayed at we a relatively inexpensive family-owned inn. The Ryoken had a courtyard at its center with a little stream. We left our shoes in a shoe cabinet by the door and walked around the inn in just our socks.
Our room had tatami floors, a tea maker, and Japanse futons for us to sleep on. Surprisingly, the tatami mats made the futons very comfortable to sleep on.
Although our room had a private bath, there was also a traditional communal bath on the main level of the inn. We just had to let the owner know if we wanted to use it and she would switch the sign so only women could use it. It was bit out of my comfort zone to use the communal bath, but I wanted to gain the full Japanese experience. Fortunately when Jane and I went to use the bath we were the only ones in there.
The communal bath isn’t so much meant for washing as it is for relaxing and soaking. I don’t know the full cultural background of Japanese baths, but I do know cleanliness is very important in Japanese culture. We actually had to wash ourselves off before entering the bath. Unfortunately my asthma made our visit to the bath a short one (the only two things that affect my asthma are tons of steam and respiratory viruses…). However, I am glad I experienced a traditional Japanese bath, especially since it was just me and Jane.
The stay at the ryoken was absolutely lovely and the breakfast the next morning was delicious (more on that in my post about Japanese food). The next time I visit Japan, I will definitely stay in a ryoken again. I loved Kyoto and would like to explore more of it, but there are so many other places to visit that we will just have to see what the next trip brings.
Next post will be about my time staying in Saitama, the city where Jane lives, and the sights we saw in Tokyo!