Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Finding Natural Beauty in Kyoto (Emma)

My exploration of Kyoto began at Arashiyama. I chose to start here because I wanted to look more critically at a highly touristed area in Kyoto, and there were many temples and tourist destinations that were close and easily accessible to one another.

One of the first things that I noticed while getting off the bus at Arashiyama was the amount of rickshaws and kimono rental shops. Much like Asakusa in Tokyo, the area immediately feels commercialized. My bus stop dropped me off close to Tenryu-ji, so I started with an exploration of the temple grounds. Unfortunately, I only had 800 yen in my pocket and needed to save some for lunch later in the day so I was unable to get into the gardens or main halls.

After Tenryu-ji, I headed straight over to the bamboo groves of Arashiyama. I didn’t walk the whole path, but I continued along the trail for quite a while and took in the scenery.  Many people of all ages were there, and it was a very even assortment of families, older couples, school groups, tour groups and people from all over the world. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I saw western foreigners in kimono, which just speaks to the fact that a large percentage of the women in Arashiyama were donning rental kimono.
Something that I found surprising and upsetting at Arashiyama was how the foreigners were acting. Although this is a sweeping judgement- there were so many people in this area these were just the small percentage that stood out. For example, there was an offshoot trail by the bamboo groves that lead to a small cemetery. Although the sign was badly translated into english, it said something along the lines of “please don’t enter”. However, you could see many foreign tourists in the cemetery taking pictures of the gravestones. For me, that felt like such direct disrespect,  and made me feel bad by association with them. That was one of the things about Arashiyama that I noticed a lot, because there were so many people there at once from so many different places, many of these sites didn’t feel sacred.

One of the draws Arashiyama is definitely the scenery. There is a lot of natural beauty in this area, as you can overlook the river and see the foothills of the mountains surrounding you. The bamboo groves are stunning, especially coming from the US where it’s unusual to see any bamboo bigger than my finger.

After Arashiyama, I went a little bit off the beaten path and headed over to Matsunoo-Taisha. When researching places to go around Arashiyama, I found this small shinto shrine as a throw away ‘if you have time’ destination on a tourist blog. Researching more in depth, I found that the shrine is one of Kyoto’s oldest- dating back to 701 AD.
Upon entering the shrine, I noticed an immediate difference from Tenryu-ji and the bamboo groves. First of all, I was the only non-japanese person in sight, and although there were quite a few people there, it was nothing like the crowds of my previous two sites. Another thing that I noticed was that almost everyone there was either in a suit or kimono, after asking one of the women there I learned that there was a wedding earlier in the day. The shrine itself was beautiful, tucked away in the scenery of the mountains and it just felt very peaceful. Apparently the shrine is known for it’s beautiful gardens as well, but again I had the problem of needing to save money for food later. However, I feel like visiting the shrine itself was worth it. 

Similarly to Arashiyama, Matsunoo-Taisha definitely focuses on the scenery and natural beauty surrounding it. Because it is more secluded and off the beaten path however, the shrine itself feels much more genuine and I can tell many of the people who visit it go because it has meaning to them.


Hannah said...

I notice that a lot as well, foreigners disrespecting sacred sites by going places and taking pictures where they shouldn't. It's a sad but common thing you see in almost every place with high concentrations of tourists. Tenryu-ji looks very peaceful though; I hope I get a chance to see it before I leave.

Millie Fan said...

Arashiyama is so beautiful! I really like the bamboo hahaha, I hope one day I have the choice to see it.