World Heritage of Kyoto: Taga Taisha, Byoudoin, Ujigami Jinja, Ishiyama-dera (Kyoto)
Date: Saturday, December 14th
Today we are exploring 3 areas, which is difficult to do in 1 day unless you are driving, and know what you are doing. We begin with a visit to Taga Taisha in Shiga Prefecture (http://www.tagataisya.or.jp). While we are stopping here mainly to stretch our legs on our way to Kyoto, this ancient Shinto shrine, built in the early 7th century, is a gem. Mentioned in the Kojiki, it is dedicated to the deities Izanagi and Izanami (the “parents” of Amaterasu etc). Pilgrims visit here hoping for long happy lives, successful marriages (or success in finding someone to marry), and general good fortune.
All of our remaining destinations today are UNESCO World Heritage sites southeast of Kyoto city. Our first stop is the beautiful Byoudoin in Uji. The main structure, the Phoenix Hall, is a rare example of Heian Period architecture, built in the mid-11th century. It contains a large sculpture of the Amida Nyorai, made from cypress and covered with gold leaf. You see this wonderful building everytime you pick up a 10 yen coin. Best of all, almost all of the art treasures of Byodoin have been carefully preserved through the centuries.
If you know where to look, in mostly overlooked corner of the temple grounds, is a tiny lawn shaped like a Japanese fan, where the famous poet/warrior Minamoto no Yorimase committed suicide by seppuku after a military defeat. This was one of the first recorded cases of ritual seppuku. After viewing this site and reflecting on it’s gory past – time for lunch. Uji is particular famous for green tea, and the green tea flavored soba noodles are awesome.
We then cross the river to visit Ujigami Jinja. Shinto shrines are regularly rebuilt, but Ujigami is Japan’s oldest, built in 1060. It is fitting that this the guardian shrine for Byodoin. The Honden (late Heian Period) and Haiden (early Kamakura Period) are listed as National Treasures. Quite something to see.
On our way back to the river, we can see a statue next to the Uji Bridge, which commemorates the literary classic, “Tale of Genji”. Arguably the world’s oldest novel, the last 10 chapters of this 54 chapter masterpiece were set in Uji by the aristocratic author Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the imperial court, sometime in the early 11th century.
We drop by this statue because our next destination is Ishiyama-dera (http://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp), the temple where she wrote most of this book. To reach Ishiyama-dera from Uji requires a drive up the road beside the Uji river, which drains Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. It is very scenic, and the temple itself was celebrated by the Ukiyoe artist Hiroshige, in his classic series “Eight Views of Omi”. While technically in Shiga Prefecture (it is very close to Kyoto and Otsu – one of the many former capitals of pre-8th century Japan. This part of the country simply drips history.
Ishiyama-dera is well preserved. The area wasn’t bombed during the war, nor greatly affected by the many civil wars Japan ensured throughout the years. Built in the year 762, it is filled with religious and art treasures, and we can see the room in which Murasaki Shikibu wrote her masterpiece.
Note: This trip is good value. The cheapest return train tickets between Aichi & these locations cost more than the tour fee, not including admissions, and would require an overnight stay.
Departs: East Exit, JR Okazaki Station, Saturday, 8:30am. Returns:20:30pm (approx)
Mode of transport: Minivan or Microbus
Deadline for Discount Price: 14 days prior
Tour Code: OK1214 (needed for application form below)