Alongside the main banquet of sight-seeing that was Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, I also went to several smaller temples on Thursday. Though Kiyomizu and Yasaka are very famous, I actually found these temples to be equally good and far less crowded. As they are so close to both Kiyomizu and Yasaka I would suggest checking out these sights at the same time.
I spotted this guy in the window of a cafe and had to take a picture, too cute!
The building that began my diversion on the way back from Kiyomizudera was Yasaka Pagoda. I spotted it as I was walking down to the bus stop and decided to try out a detour. Sadly the pagoda was shut, but apparently you can climb it when it’s open so I’m definitely going back soon! I will save writing about its history then as it seems to be pretty interesting. The pagoda looks over several narrow streets with various cafes and shops selling souvenirs.
Walking down from Yasaka pagoda, I noticed the tell-tale signs of a shrine – the red torii gates. There were some photographers in the entrance which piqued my curiosity further. Upon further inspection I discovered a geisha in a photo shoot in front of a very picturesque shrine. Of course, I simply had to take some pictures – there were several other people taking pictures behind the photographer.
Photo shoot aside, this shrine, called Yasaka Koshin-Do (八坂庚申堂), turned out to be the gateway to my learning about a new religion. Perhaps ‘religion’ is too strong a term, but this shrine belongs to the Koshin faith, a blend of Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism and folk beliefs. The main belief of Koshin is that everyone has three worms inside them, called sanshi ( 三尸) and these worms keep track of all the good and bad deeds you do. Every 60 days they leave your body in your sleep and report about you to the heavenly god. The heavenly god then punishes those who have committed bad deeds with misfortune or illness. Those who have committed bad deeds try to stay awake all night on this Koshin night in order to prevent the worms from leaving their body.
The coloured balls of cloth are called Kukurizaru, and they represent a monkey with its hands and feet bound, to represent total control over the playful and desire-driven creature inside everyone. According to the Koshin faith, in order to have a wish granted you must rid yourself of one desire; you place your desire in the coloured ball of cloth and Koshin will help that desire vanish and subsequently your wish will be granted and you also become a better person. This is why you see writing on the cloth – these are wishes and the dates that the desire was wrapped up and hung in the temple.
The Koshin faith is also one of the main sources of the ‘three monkeys’ – ‘no hearing, no seeing, no talking’. The message is to not dwell on ones misdeeds, but also not to let the Heavenly God find out. The reason that this ideal is represented by monkeys is probably due to a pun; the monkeys names are: mizaru (no see), iwazaru (no speak) and kikazaru (no hear). The pattern is broken down into Verb + Zaru, which means to not do something. Zaru sounds like Saru, which means monkey, and so the act of not doing something became represented by the monkeys. There are other religions that associate with the monkeys, but Koshin was the main promoter of this representation for centuries.
The lady at the shrine was happy to sign my book – I was a bit worried that as such a small shrine it wouldn’t be possible to get a stamp but thankfully she was in.
Just down the road from Yasaka Koshin-Do, on Nene Michi (a street), I came across Entoku-in. This is a sub-temple of the more famous Kodai-ji, which is located just up the hill. Entoku-in was constructed in memory of Nene, also known as Kita-no-Mandokoro, the principle wife of Toyotomi Hideoyosi (one of the great unifiers of Japan). After his death in 1598 she became a nun and entertained various patrons on the site of Entoku-ji, living there for 19 years until her death at 77. After her death her nephew, Kinoshita Toshifusa, had the monk Sanko found Entoku-ji in her memory and declared it the Kinoshita family temple.
The temple itself is definitely worth a visit – it’s a unique visit in several ways. The temple has a zen garden which was especially beautiful with the crimson trees encircling the gravel. The temple is also great to explore; when you enter you take off your shoes and are given a bag to carry them around in. The temple has several corridors and hidden courtyards that you can explore. While you are exploring you can look at the treasures of the temple, which are worth the visit in themselves. You can also experience the tea ceremony there for an extra 500円 with no reservation necessary – definitely something to consider if you’ve never seen it!
The main treasures of Entoku-ji are the screens painted by Hasegawa Tohaku, a famous painter of the 17th century who founded his own school. He was the official painter of Toyotomi Hideoyohi and his screens are absolutely amazing. The temple has a strict “no photos of the art” policy, but I snapped a couple when I was confident no one was looking, just for you to see how spectacular they are. If you are passing by Entoku-ji, you simply have to go in to look at them, they’re stunning. Entrance is 500円 and worth every 1円.
I also got my stamp done in Entoku-ji, bringing my total shuin count for the whole day up to 4! The calligraphy was done by an ancient man with an equally ancient brush – it had bristles sticking out everywhere. The result was a pretty cool-looking stamp.
On my way back to Yasaka Shrine, I walked past another temple-like building. It transpires that this was the location of one of the many self-organised samurai squads during the Bakumatsu (the end of the Tokugawa period where the shogunate was collapsing). This was the site of the Goryo Eiji, the Guards of the Emperor’s Tomb, a pro-imperial, anti-bakufu group. Their tale is that a spy reported that they were planning to assassinate the head of the Shinsengumi, the main police force of the bakufu. The leader of the Goryo Eiji used to be friends with the head of the Shinsengumi, but they were driven to enmity by their opposing political views. The chief of the Shinsengumi invited his old friend to drink together, and on the way back had him assassinated by the Shinsengumi. Despite this ruthless attitude, the head of the Shinsengumi met a sticky end himself – he was defeated in battle in 1868 and his head displayed by the river at Sanjo, Kyoto.
This detour to the smaller temples near the larger attractions proved to me once again that small temples are just as good as the great ones in terms of history and sights. Just wandering around Kyoto can be very rewarding – it’s not always necessary to have an itinerary that’s planned down to the minute, especially if you’re not doing a whirlwind three-day tour of Kyoto.