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A Taste of Kyoto: Historic Sites and Traditions

While the MV Explorer was docked in Kobe, Japan, voyagers had the opportunity to visit nearby Kyoto on a day-long field program. The program visited three of Kyoto’s historic buildings that are designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and Kiyomizu Temple. Then voyagers had the opportunity to make traditional Japanese sweets, or wagashi, at a renowned sweets shop. The day touched on all the senses and left everyone with a taste of the enriching history and culture in this former imperial city.

Simply looking upon Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, is a lesson in Japanese garden design in which the building works in harmony with its setting. Each level of the building, which was a former villa and is now a Zen temple, represents a different architectural style, Shinden, Bukke, and Zen, with the top two floors covered entirely in gold leaf.
Butterflies, cranes, and dragons are carved into the elaborate wooden Karamon gate that visitors pass through to visit the Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in central Kyoto. The gate is also decorated with golden stylized chrysanthemum blossoms, referencing Kyoto’s role as the home of Imperial Japan for over a thousand years (left). Erin Vines from the University of Virginia stands with fellow students in a courtyard of the castle which was built in 1603 to house the family of the Tokugawa shogunate (right).
Natalie Nishi from the University of Oregon and Nizette Krebs from the University of San Diego walk up the bustling street called Chawan-zaka, or Teapot Lane, that leads to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Visitors enter Kioymizu-dera through the Deva Gate and pass a three-storied pagoda before coming to the temple’s main hall, or hondo. Kiyomizu literally means “pure water temple” and was named for the clean flowing water coming from the Otowa Mountain in east Kyoto.
In Shinto, wooden tablets, or ema, are inscribed with wishes and prayers and left at the temple to be received by the gods. Historically horses were donated for good favor and now worshipers buy ema with pictures of horses or other Shinto imagery to leave at shrines (left). The main hall, or hondo, at Kiyomizu-dera was constructed without nails and its stage rises 42.5 feet above the valley floor (right). In Japan, the phrase, “To jump off the stage of Kiyomizu,” means that a person has the courage to make a big decision.
Shoes must be removed before entering the main hall at Kiyomizu-dera. This collection of shoes represents the variety of fashions worn to visit the temple, from people dressed in traditional yukatas, or cotton kimonos, to more casual dress.
Many students, including Ashley Bruski from Carroll University, lined up with worshipers to offer a wish and ring the large singing bowl at Kiyomizu-dera.
Jishu-jinga is a separate shrine located above Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall where people go to pray for good fortune in their love lives (left). A Japanese girl reads her fortune on a slip of paper (right).
Marisa Lanker from the Ohio State University (left) and Joshua Carrelo Mendez from Cornell University (center) learn to make traditional Japanese confections called wagashi during a class at Kanshundo sweets shop taught by craftsman Toyota Yoshinori.
Ashley Bruski from Carroll University and Elliot Hardy (traveling with Professor Grant Hardy) exit the Kanshundo sweet-making shop in Kyoto (left). Jou-namagashi kinton was made by pushing confection through a wooden strainer to create thin strands which were then applied with chopsticks to a ball made of sweetened bean paste (right).
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