Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kiyomizu-dera and Tanuki

Kiyomizu-dera balcony (Jun 1, 2012)

The day spent at the Nanzen-ji temple was one of those hot and humid summer days that makes me think that Japan and Iowa must be somewhat related. Once we were done with the gardens open to visit, we strolled across the street to look for something edible, and for a much needed drink. The first thing we found was a vending machine, featuring what appears to be the best selling Japanese beverage: Pocari Sweat. No, the pocari is not a furry south-american critter with a tendency for sweating profusely (I read on the internet somebody suggesting how you can harvest pocaris' sweat by having them exercising in a hamster wheel doubling as centrifuge). It is instead a very popular beverage advertised as an "ion supplement" sports drink. It is clear that customers in japan don't mentally translate the name of beverages before they drink them. Still, I am not japanese and I don't fancy furry animals secretions, so I went for a coke (most likely less healthy than the sweat of a pocari). While that solved the drinking urges, the eating part was brilliantly fixed by finding an excellent nearby bakery where we had a focaccia and other freshly baked goods. We ate all that in a public garden next to the temples, offering a place to seat in the shade, as well as free tea (also healthier than the coke).

Well endowed Tanukis
Refreshed, we decided to get to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, which is a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the most spectacular temples in Kyoto. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa waterfall (Kiyomizu literally means "pure water"). We read on our internet guide that the temple doesn't have a single nail in the whole structure (but don't believe all you read in the internet, I see several bolts in the photo above). The waterfall has been converted into a three streams fountain, from which visitors can drink. Water from the first stream will give you longevity. The second stream is associated to fortune at school, and the third one will give you fortune in love. It is said that you should not drink from all three streams, though, because it is considered greedy. Mayli drank from two of the streams, but I saw people cheating and filling bottles with water from all the streams. The Kyomizu-dera temple is quite far from Daitoku-ji, and we wanted to get there by sunset, so in the end we had to take a taxi to find it in time (guess what, we got lost). Along the way, however, we found the three endearing little statuettes on the left, which are effigies of the popular Tanuki, a magical shape-shifting creature based on the real-world japanese raccoon dog (that's a real canid, not a raccoon). Tanuki is also notorious for being especially well endowed (symbolizing wealth, not sexual prowess), even if this cannot be easily seen in my photo. The large photo on top shows the main building in Kiyomizu-dera, with the 13 meters tall terrace, offering a breathtaking view of the modern Kyoto below. In Japan, "jumping the stage at Kiyomizu" is equivalent to the english "taking the plunge". It was originally meant literally, as in the Edo period at least 234 people actually jumped off the terrace to test fortune (a wish would be granted to the survivors). With a 85.4% survival rate it may not be a bad deal, but drinking at the fountain seems safer. As you can see in the large photo, people don't jump anymore, but visit the terrace to enjoy the vista. See now why we wanted to get there by sunset? 

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