The Architectural Treasures of Kyoto
When it comes to finance, Tokyo is the undisputed financial universe of Japan but make no mistake about it, Kyoto is Japan’s leading destination for culture, the arts and stunning architectural masterpieces. The artistic and cultural hub of Japan suffered devastation and destruction during the American bombings in World War II, but the city made a quick recovery after the war and today, it still houses breathtaking sites and precious monuments, inspiring travellers from all over the world to flock there to immerse in the history of ancient and modern Japan. The Culture Embassy Pte Ltd invites you to embark on a scintillating cultural and architectural odyssey of Kyoto.
Foreign visitors have named this UNESCO World Heritage Site as the Golden Pavilion, drawing inspiration from its golden appearance. The original building was constructed 1397 and was a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, whose son later converted it into a temple. In 1950, a young monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground and this was eventually fictionalised in Mishima Yukio’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Kinkakuji’s architecture is an astounding showcase of the wealthy Kitayama culture that was prevalent during the 14th century. The main hall, covered in brilliant gold leaves, shining above its reflecting pond, is truly spectacular. Each floor of the temple is built in a different architectural style: the ground floor is in the thousand-year old Shinden style, the second floor is in the Bukke style seen in samurai residences of the last few centuries, and the third floor features a Chinese Zen Hall where the Shogun conducted tea ceremonies and informal meetings, reflecting its multi-faceted influences.
If you take a walk amidst its surroundings, one of the most unforgettable sights you will ever behold in your life is the reflection of the shimmering Golden Pavilion in the calm waters. While your heart starts racing with excitement, your other senses experience sublime tranquility and peace.
Yokoso Kyoto 京都へようこそ!
While the Kinkakuji Temple simply takes your breath away, the Ryōan-ji calms you down and invites you to immerse in its tranquil elegance. This Buddhist temple, which is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not as extravagant as the Golden Pavilion, but it has its own unique beauty. It most famous architectural feature is the karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden, which consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting characteristic of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point, at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.
Visitors can either take a slow walk on the temple grounds and enjoy the serenity of the beautiful garden, take photographs of its unique architectural layout, or simply try to find some inspiration to compose your own haiku. Whatever is the case, the classic Japanese zen design is the perfect setting for you to contemplate the meaning of life.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
If this place looks familiar to you, fret not. It isn’t a déjà vu. This was where some famous scenes in the Hollywood blockbuster, Memoirs of a Geisha, were filmed. The scene of young Chiyo racing through the mesmerizing red torii gates filled with hope was simply breath-taking cinematography and a lot of it was owing to the amazing beauty of this piece of architectural masterpiece.
One of Japan’s grandest Shinto shrines on Mount Inari, Fushimi Inari pays respects to Inari, the god of rice. Fushimi Inari Shrine was founded in 711 by the Hata family, over 80 years before Kyoto became the capital of Japan, in 794. The shrine’s principal deity is Ukanomitama-no-Mikoto – a mythical figure who is the goddess of rice and food, and who is closely identified with the god Inari.
Here, you simply get lost in the world of the endless red torii which weave through the trees on various trails around the mountain. If you can read hirgana, katakana or kanji, you might even attempt to decipher the words to see if you can find the meaning behind the gates. This is one UNESCO World Heritage Site that you should not miss if you visit Kyoto!
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most legendary temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters.
Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13m above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of colour in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall and its stage were constructed without using any nails, and houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon, which just makes you marvel at the craftsmanship and architectural ingenuity behind it.
Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18m apart. Legend has it that successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed will bring luck in finding love so you should probably try it if you are still single!
The story goes that the Americans were originally planning to deploy the atomic bomb on Kyoto but then the beauty of the Nijō Castle persuaded them to spare Kyoto from the A-bomb. This might not be true but if it were, we wouldn’t be surprised because the Nijō Castle is one of the most amazing architectural and historical sites in the world.
Known as the Kyoto residence of the famous leader Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first shogun of the Edo Period), the castle is simply a living organism of Japanese artistry. The main highlight of the castle is the Ninomaru Palace but before you enter, you are greeted by the Karamon, a “Chinese style” gate identified by its use of karahafu, a curved gable particular to Japan.
When you step into the Ninomaru Palace, you are transplanted to a world of 5 buildings, 33 rooms and 800 tatami mats (straw mats). On the front, you will see Luan birds (a type of mythical Chinese bird), pine trees, clouds, grass and peonies. The base is made out of squared masonry, and the roof uses cypress bark.
The palace was an office and residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns when they visited Kyoto and so, it was constructed to reflect the power of the office. Each room in the palace was designed by great artists of the Kanō school, and the woodwork and painted screens are simply sublime. The floors of the corridor are called uguisubari (nightingale floors) on account of the manner in which they were construction, that makes them squeak when you step on them.
Kyoto Concert Hall
Standing in contrast to Kyoto’s ancient monuments is the Kyoto Concert Hall, home to the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra. The Kyoto Concert Hall was inaugurated in 1995 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of ‘Heian-kyo’, the ancient capital.
Designed by Arata Isozaki, the entrance hall of this brilliant structure can release powerful afflatuses even in the most non-creative of people. Embellished with sculptures and twelve pillars that represent the twelve zodiac signs, it is but a mere sneak preview of the unforgettable musical journey that the visitors are about to embark upon.
The symphony hall is an illustration of the humankind’s modern-day technological prowess, given how it creates optical illusions, with the help of music, to cut off your connection from the real world outside. The ensemble hall, replete with striking constellations on its ceiling and streaks of light that point towards the magnetic north, is perfect for piano performances and mini orchestras.