Enjoy Higashiyama

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Enjoy a stroll around Higashiyama --  Higashiyama Karuta (Part 4)
 There are a number of historical and cultural assets, such as shrines and temples, in Higashiyama Ward, which lends the whole area a museum-like quality. In this ward, the residents and the ward office have collaborated to create "Higashiyama Karuta" as a way of promoting the great variety of important features in the area. ("Karuta" is a traditional Japanese card game with cards featuring haiku verse.) Here are a few examples of some of the places and events featured on the karuta.

Click here for Part 1. | Click here for Part 2. | Click here for Part 3.


Nirvana (Tofuku-ji Temple) – A rare Nirvana painting containing a cat  
Nirvana (Tofuku-ji Temple) – A rare Nirvana painting containing a cat

Cats do not usually appear in Nirvana paintings as they are thought to grieve over the Parinirvana of the Buddha (a time of celebration of Buddha). This Nirvana painting by the priest Mincho of Tofuku-ji Temple is a rare version as it does actually contain a cat. It is believed that while he was working on the painting, a cat appeared carrying paint in its mouth and offered it to him. Struck by its kindness, he decided to add its image to the work. (Tsukinowa School District)


Statue of Okuni – A symbol of the enduring popularity of kabuki at the Minami-za Theater  
Statue of Okuni – A symbol of the enduring popularity of kabuki at the Minami-za Theater

The area of Shijo-gawara, a long standing center of entertainment, became a true theater district when several theaters were opened on the east side of the area following the introduction of Kabuki by Izumo-no Okuni. Of the seven theaters located here during the Edo Period, unfortunately only Minami-za now remains. The popularity of Kabuki, however, has not changed, and still draws a legion of fans. (Yasaka School District)


Tsurugi Shrine – Stroking a stone to pray for good health  
Tsurugi Shrine – Stroking a stone to pray for good health

Certain deities, including Izanagino Mikoto and Izanamino Mikoto, are enshrined here, and in front of the main gate you can see the famous “Stroke Stone.” It is believed that if you stroke this stone and then touch any troubled parts of your body with the hand used to do it, you will receive miraculous powers. This shrine is also known to cure children of tempers and tantrums. Ema (wooden tablets) bearing pictures of flying fish are used as prayer dedications. (Imagumano School District)


Meyami Jizo (Chugen-ji Temple) – The guardian deity for eye disease sufferers  
Meyami Jizo (Chugen-ji Temple) – The guardian deity for eye disease sufferers

To the east of the Minami-za Theater, just past Yamato-oji Street is Chugen-ji Temple. Walking through the gate, you will see a wooden deity, almost double the size of an adult person sitting next to the main hall. In this dark, sheltered space, the eyes made of crystal appear to be weeping, or suffering from some optical disease. This strange image seems to make it perfect as a guardian deity for eye disease sufferers. (Yasaka School District)


Hoko-ji Temple – The bell is still here, but the rice cakes are long gone.  
Hoko-ji Temple – The bell is still here, but the rice cakes are long gone

The temple houses a very large bell, weighing approximately 82 tons, and is famous for the inscription on it that triggered a war between the Toyotomi family and the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1614. This temple also used to be known for its culinary specialty, the “Buddha Rice Cake” (a white rice cake containing sweet bean paste) all over Japan during the mid-Edo Period. It was very popular, as it was really delicious and did not easily melt when cooked. Unfortunately, the rice cake shop was closed following World War II, leaving us with opportunity to try it any longer. (Teikyo School District)


Chion-in Temple – The large bell is rung on New Year’s Eve to purify the spirit and banish evil thoughts  
Chion-in Temple – The large bell is rung on New Year’s Eve to purify the spirit and banish evil thoughts

The bell of Chion-in Temple is one of the three largest temple bells in Japan (Chion-in, Kodai-ji and Todai-ji Temples). It weighs approximately 70 tons, with a width of approximately 2.8 meters. On New Year’s Eve, the bell is rung by a team of 17 monks at any one time. The ritual on the night lasts for two hours and involves around 30 monks working shifts. The sound of the bell is pure and serene, and echoes beautifully through the chilly night air of Kyoto. (Yasaka School District)


Imakumano Shrine – A sacred tree marks the eternal history of the shrine  
Imakumano Shrine – A sacred tree marks the eternal history of the shrine

Heading south from the Imakumano Bus Stop on Higashioji Street, you will see a tall camphor tree in the grounds of Imakumano Shrine, which was established through the ceremonial transfer of a divided tutelary deity from Kumano Sanzan to Hoju-ji Temple of Emperor Goshirakawa’s Sento Imperial Palace. The camphor tree is approximately 21 meters tall with a trunk around 6 meters in circumference. This tree is believed to have been planted by Emperor Goshirakawa himself. (Imagumano School District)


The Dharani Bell – Rescued from a watery grave with shouts of “Eisai” or “Yosai”  
The Dharani Bell – Rescued from a watery grave with shouts of “Eisai” or “Yosai”

Long ago, a huge bell at the Rokujo Kawaranoin residence was washed away into the Kamo River by a huge flood. After the incident, Eisai, a priest and founder of Kennin-ji Temple, asked the local people for help in rescuing it from the bottom of the river. Despite it being almost impossibly heavy to lift, they apparently managed to pull it up onto dry ground when they enthusiastically shouted “Eisai” and “Yosai”. (Shinmichi School District)


Yume-no Ukihashi (floating bridge of dreams) – A route to and from school for children carrying large school bags  
Yume-no Ukihashi (floating bridge of dreams) – A route to and from school for children carrying large school bags

This site, located east of the gates to Ikkyo Elementary School on Sennyu-ji Street, is recognized as a historical location. There used to be a vermilion-lacquered bridge over the Otonashi River, and its name, Yume-no Ukihashi, was taken from The Tale of Genji. The bridge was torn down after the war, but two of the bridge posts’ ornamental caps have been preserved along with Ichinohashi Bridge on the northwest corner of the grounds of Ikkyo Elementary School. (Ikkyo School District)


Yasaka Shrine – A roaring dragon guards the main hall of Yasaka Shrine  
Yasaka Shrine – A roaring dragon guards the main hall of Yasaka Shrine

When standing by the pillar at the east gate to the main hall of Yasaka Shrine, facing the west side and clapping your hands in prayer, you will hear a roaring sound coming from the ceiling. This is why this ceiling is called “Ryuboe Tenjo” or “Nakiryu Tenjo,” both of which mean “the ceiling of the roaring dragon.” The main hall consists of two buildings, covered by a single roof, and it is believed that the sound is created because of this structural peculiarity. The Blue Dragon, one of four mythical gods, is known as the guardian of the east, and Yasaka Shrine is located on the east side of Kyoto. It is also said there is a dragon hall in a pond that lies beneath the main hall. (Yasaka School District)


The Higashiyama Mountain Range – 36 mountains of timeless significance  
The Higashiyama Mountain Range – 36 mountains of timeless significance

The city of Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by mountains: The Higashi-yama range on the east side, the Nishi-yama range on the west side and the Kita-yama range to the north. The Higashi-yama range is the closest to downtown Kyoto, and consists of 36 mountains, each with an individual name. They were forsaken at one time in the late Edo Period in the 19th century, as it was thought an impossible task to maintain their landscaping, but now they attract and calm people with their green and natural beauty.


Sennyu-ji Temple – A final resting place for members of the Imperial family  
Sennyu-ji Temple – A final resting place for members of the Imperial family

The name of this temple was originally written in different characters, but the characters in the present name are written to mean “the temple of spring water.” This is in recognition of the spring of natural water that was found when the priest Gachirin Daishi established the temple. Since then, this temple has come to be respected by a great many people. It has come to be known as a resting place for Imperial family members for the past 700 years or so since the establishment of a mausoleum for the Emperor Shijo. A number of visitors come to this temple every year to pray to the Seven Lucky Gods over the New Year period and on Parinirvana Day in February. (Tsukinowa School District)


Autumn Festival – Fun pottery experience using a potter’s wheel  
Autumn Festival – Fun pottery experience using a potter’s wheel

Sennyu-ji Temple Autumn Pottery Festival is held on the third Saturday and Sunday in November every year with over 50 stores exhibiting between Sennyu-ji Temple and Tofuku-ji Temple. It is a fun-filled pottery festival with a variety of attractions, such as a stamp rally, studio tours, and a free pottery making experience using a potter’s wheel. These temples also attract a good number of visitors late in the year to view the beautiful autumn leaves. (Tsukinowa School District)


Kyoto’s Big Buddha – Disaster prone, but remembered in song and people’s hearts  
Kyoto’s Big Buddha – Disaster prone, but remembered in song and people’s hearts

When we hear the “Big Buddha,” we usually think of the Big Buddhas of Nara or Kamakura, but there used to be a big Buddha in Hoko-ji Temple in Kyoto, too. The first Big Buddha, built by Hideyoshi, and the second Big Buddha, made of bronze and built by Hideyori, were both destroyed in earthquakes. The third was immortalized in a children’s song, which goes “Kyoto’s Big Buddha was burnt in a fire.” Finally, a fourth wooden bust of Buddha was destroyed by fire in 1973. At present, the disaster prone Big Buddha of Kyoto remains only in song and the hearts of Kyoto lovers. (Teikyo School District)


Onna-zaka (Women’s Hill) --  Beautiful girls line the street  
Onna-zaka (Women’s Hill) --  Beautiful girls line the street

When you walk east from Higashiyama-Shichijo and up the hill (the approach to Hokoku Shrine) between Chishaku-in Temple and Myoho-in Temple, you will see a line of buildings, which are the Junior High School, High School and University of “Kyojo (Kyoto Women’s School).” In the morning on the way to school, and in the evening on the way back from school, this hill is thronged with female students. This is why this hill has long been called “Onna-zaka” or Women’s Hill. (Shinmichi School District)


A crane with no eyes – The logic behind the sculpture created by Jingoro  
A crane with no eyes – The logic behind the sculpture created by Jingoro

The sculpture on the Chinese Gate of Toyokuni Shrine (remnants of Fushimi Castle) is believed to have been made by a famous sculptor, Jingoro Hidari. It is said that Jingoro made this sculpture of the crane so realistic that he decided not to put eyes on it to stop it flying away somewhere else. (Teikyo School District)


map Tofuku-ji Temple Minami-za Theater Tsurugi Shrine Chugen-ji Temple Hoko-ji Temple Chion-in Temple Imakumano Shrine Rokujo Kawaranoin Yume-no Ukihashi Bridge Yasaka Shrine The Higashiyama Mountain Range (36 mountains) Sennyu-ji Temple Sennyu-ji Temple Autumn Pottery Festival Hoko-ji Temple Onna-zaka Hill Chinese Gate of Toyokuni Shrine

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