Ilya Genkin Fine Art Landscape Photography, Travel Photography

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Kansai Region, Honshu, Japan


Kyoto is a city in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. Kyoto was Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from A.D. 794 until 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face. It is also the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.

Kyoto is located in the Kansai region, located near Osaka and Kobe. It is famous for many things including its many 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. There are seventeen World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. Kyoto features the famous Ryoan-ji temple's zen garden (rock garden), Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion) and is the place where the Kyoto protocol was developed.

As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens. It is a city with tremendous cultural assets, where the past still lingers on, where it is possible to glimpse a few Geishas and Maikos in the streets. The historic monuments of ancient Kyoto are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are so many great Kyoto attractions it would take weeks to see them all.

Ryoan-ji Temple - Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto is famous for its Zen garden. Ryoan-ji Temple is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style. The Japan's most famous rock garden in Ryoan-ji Temple attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south. The temple's prime attraction is its fame Karesansui ("dry landscape") garden. It consists of a rectangular courtyard with 15 rocks set on patches of moss amidst a sea of white gravel enclosed by a tawny earthen wall. The dry landscape capture the essence of Zen Buddhism's quiet meditation and is considered a masterpiece of Japanese culture. However, the 15th-century designer and its interpretation remain unknown. One particularity of the rocks' layout is that, no matter where one sits, one can only see 14 of them at a time. The garden also changes with the seasons and the shadows brought by the branches reaching over its walls. The longer one stares at it and the more fascinating it becomes. For example, the garden looks perfectly level, but is actually inclined towards the south-east corner to allow drainage. The western wall is slightly higher on its northern end to create an optical illusion of depth and perspective. Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden's meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.

The "Golden Temple" or "Golden Pavilion" is one of Kyoto's best-known attractions, and has been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1994. Kinkaku-ji (Kinkakuji) was originally built in 1397 as a villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), third Ashikaga shogun. It was composed of several buildings, including a replica of the imperial palace's Shishin-den Hall. 11 years after Yoshimitsu's death, the villa was converted into a Buddhist temple of the Rinzai sect, with Muso Kokushi appointed as abbot, following Yoshimitsu's will. On 2nd July 1950, a 21 year-old monk, and student at Otani University, set fire to the Kinkaku-ji. The temple was burned to the ground, and the young man was arrested. He confessed that he wanted to die in the flames. The story was immortalised by writer Mishima Yukio in his novel "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion". The Kinkaku-ji temple was entirely reconstructed in its original form in 1955, extending the gold-foil covering to the lower floors as well. Kinkakuji was formally called Shariden. The elegant, harmonious building consists of three types of architecture. The first floor is Shinden-zukuri, the palace style. It is named Ho-sui-in. The second floor is Buke-zukuri, the style of the samurai house and is called Cho-on-do. The third floor is Karayo style or Zen temple style. It is called Kukkyo-cho. Both the second and third floors of the Golden Pavilion are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. The roof, upon which the Chinese phoenix settles, is thatched with shingles.

Kiyomizu-dera ("Pure Water Temple") is well-known landmark of Kyoto and one of the most popular temples for visitors in Japan. It was founded in A.D. 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. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. The temple's beauty is best appreciated during the cherry-blossom and autumn foliage seasons. The main hall of Kiyomizu-dera is notable for its vast wooden stage, supported by 139 pillars, which juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the Kyoto city. The best views from the main hall are from the Otowa Falls, near the three-storied pagoda. The expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive jumping from the stage, one's wish would be granted. During the Edo period, it was said that whoever jumped the 13 metres from the veranda and survived would have a wish granted. 234 people dared the leap, of which 35 perished. The practice has long since been prohibited. New beliefs and practices have appeared over time. Among the shrines part of the Kiyomizu complex is the Jishu-jinja Shrine, nicknamed the Love Shrine or Matchmaking Shrine. It is dedicated to Okinushi-no-mikoto, the Shinto god of love, marriage and relationships. Visitors in search of their soul-mate can try to walk between pair of "love stones" placed 18 meters apart. They should do it with their eyes closed in order to find true love. One can be assisted in the crossing, but this is taken to mean that a go-between will be needed.

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a shinto jinja (shrine) dedicated to the spirit Inari, located in Fushimi-ku in about 2km south-east of Kyoto station, Japan. Fushimi Inari Taisha is without doubt the largest and most impressive Inari shrine in Japan. Fushimi Inari Taisha is also famous for appearing in the film Memoirs of a Geisha. Fushimi Inari Shrine is also famous for the countless vermilion torii gates, offerings by worshippers, that cover the hiking trails of Inarisan, the wooded mountain behind the shrine's main buildings. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail. The 4km walk through the torii tunnel to the top of the Inari-san hill can be a strenuous one, especially in the heat of summer. That does not discourage some joggers to use the place as a training ground, at the stupefaction of tourists. Two large ponds and several small waterfalls can be found in the maze of torii, depending on which path you decide to follow. The torii gates are all donations from individuals, families or companies. The Inari spirit is considered to be the protector of grains, especially rice, and has thus historically been associated with wealth. Companies often make offerings to Inari shrines in the form of barrels of rice wine (sake) or torii gates. Statues of menacing kitsune (foxes), said to have the magic power to take possession of human spirits, alternate with torii gates. The fox is however reverred to as the god of harvest (rice and other cereals), and is often seen carrying a key in his mouth, which is for the rice granary. Foxes are said to love rice balls rolled in fried tofu, which are called for that reason "o-inari-san". They can be purchased in about any sushi shops.