Kyoto on the Autumnal Equinox holiday



High on my list of temples to visit in Kyoto (and there’s a long list to choose from!), was Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. It’s probably Kyoto’s top sight and who wouldn’t want to see a Zen Buddhist temple with two stories covered in pure gold leaf?

The first hints of fall color beginning to show at Kinkakuji. In a couple of weeks, the leaves–and the hordes of tourists–should be spectacular!

The history of Kinkakuji dates back to a 1397 villa that became a temple upon the death of its owner, but it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, most recently in 1955. Kinkakuji inspired the similarly named Ginkakuji, or Silver Pavilion, we visited the day before.

Although I really wanted to visit Kinkakuji, I had some misgivings since it happened to be the Autumnal Equinox holiday in Japan, a public holiday when people often flock to temples with their families. Hmm. We decided to go for it anyway, hoping the cloudy weather and threat of rain might work to our advantage again with regards to crowds.

Today, we opted to buy a Kyoto bus pass. At 500 yen/day (about $4.90), they’re a good deal if you plan to do some scattered sightseeing. A regular one-way ticket on a bus is 230 yen. (You get on Japanese buses in the middle and pay a machine by the driver when you get off.) Three “Raku” buses (numbered 100, 101 & 102) are included on this pass in addition to the regular city buses and they hit many of the top tourist sites in Kyoto. Lots of locals use them, too. A Raku bus picked up near our apartment and went directly to Kinkakuji in the west of the city without requiring any changes, so we were there in less than 30 minutes.

At Kinkakuji: People toss coins at the bowl among the statues for good luck.

The rain held off and, not surprisingly, the crowds were pretty thick at Kinkajiju, but not as bad as I might have expected except around the main Golden Pavilion photo op. [Tickets are 400 yen. (about $3.92)] After walking the temple grounds, we had much fun sampling snacks set out at several food stalls just beyond the final shrine: sweet nama yatsuhashi, a Kyoto specialty, and more savory bites of crunchy little balls flavored with wasabi, ginger, curry, etc.

David samples nama yatsuhashi, a soft, triangle-shaped Kyoto sweet with various fillings: cinnamon, sesame, chestnut, and many more

After a lunch break at the apartment, we decided to head to the east side of Kyoto to see Sanjusangendo. Despite the fact I can never remember the name of this temple, what I’d read about the many statues of Kannon housed there definitely stuck in my mind. I had to see this place!

Sanjusangendo exceeded expectations. Housed in a long, narrow temple redolent of smoke and incense, row upon row of the many-armed goddess of mercy stand, shimmering in gold. A huge statue sits at the center of this host, making 1001 statues of the goddess.



Central statue at Sanjusangendo

Sanjusangendo is 600 yen (about $5.88), a bit more than some other temples, but well worth it my opinion. A highlight!

We stayed till closing at Sanjusangendo, but figured we still had time to make it to Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizudera) for sunset. Kiyomizu is known for its huge terrace overhanging a hillside, its views of Kyoto, and a holy spring. We were tired, it was drizzling on-and-off again, we debated, but we decided we could do it. (It’s this kind of thinking that has us walking 8-10 miles a day before we know it.)

A short bus ride later, we started hiking up the shop-lined street to Kiyomizu. The area is charming, its small shops and restaurants stylish. A 3-tiered pagoda welcomes visitors to the temple ground. Up more steps, we paid 400 yen (appx. $3.92) to continue on to the large wooden deck jutting from the main hall. A path wandered beyond that and along the side of a mountain, then down to Otowa waterfall. The stream supplying the waterfall splits into three parts here and people used cups on long poles to drink from the water. Each is said to have a different benefit: longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. (Drinking from all three is apparently considered greedy.)

Three-tiered pagoda at Kiyomizudera
View towards the deck at Kiyomizu

With darkness setting in, it was time go. We had reservations at Kyo-ryori Kaji for a multi-course kaiseki dinner our AirBnB host recommended highly. I’ll review that fun meal in a later post.

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