Travel Kyoto: Gion and Yasaka Shrine

by - Friday, June 16, 2017

I'm supposed to be writing about my Tokyo trip for the whole month of May/June. However, I still find myself thinking about Kyoto a lot. And I really mean, A LOT.

I even had a dream about how my Torii figure, which I bought as a souvenir, got broken. You can just imagine how I felt dispirited even after waking up. Right now, I'm just very grateful that it is just a dream.
Throughout the planning process of this trip, this Torii Gate figure has always been on top of my to-buy list! I'll be sharing more about this gem in my next post but for now, picking up where we left off, from Arashiyama Bamboo Forestnext stop is Yasaka Shrine.After going to train-accessible tourist spots, I headed back to Kyoto station where city bus and tourist bus are located. As a huge train rider, I was surprised how Kyoto made it easier to reach major tourist spots by bus.

With a flat rate of ¥230, Kyoto provided a tourist bus called "RAKU BUS" (raku means cozy or easy in Japanese). The buses stop at different tourist destinations and returns back to Kyoto station.Raku Bus 100 - terminal
Here's a story! For this trip, I actually allotted a budget for my transportation which I charged in my ICOCA tap card. After the long walks I did, I rode a bus with an intention to go back to Kyoto station to eat lunch.

I was not really sure if the bus I was riding was bound to go back to the station or if it was going the opposite, so I asked a Japanese lady sitting beside me. The asking for directions became a friendly chitchat, she then asked me what time will I go home.

I was starting to wonder why when she started to say "I'm about to go home, what a waste for this 1-day pass bus ticket, so yeah... I'll give it to you. You can use it for the whole day you're here in Kyoto. Enjoy Kyoto!" The Kyoto Bus One-day Pass costs ¥500, ride all you can (More information here)
Lord, what did I do to deserve such generous people in my life. To you very kind lady, I didn't even ask for your name. I don't even know if I will ever see you again but I hope you know how much you cheered me up and changed my views in life after meeting you. I hope to do the same to other people next time.

The entrance to the shrine grounds. In the background, you can clearly see shops lined along the famous Shijo street.
Inside, you will be greeted with merchants selling snacks and lucky charms and people wearing kimono locals and tourists alike. In the photo are food kiosks selling potato fries and crab meat.

Small wooden plaques for wishes and prayers. 
Commonly found in Shinto shrines, these wooden plaques are believed to be a form of communication vehicle to send your prayers to the Gods. Interestingly, these wishing plaques are called "ema" whose Kanji characters translate to 'e' for picture and 'ma' which means horse. They said in the old days, horses are dedicated to Gods as their vehicles.
Found a couple of wishes written in Korean! Actually, I bought an ema too. However, I thought of just taking the plaque home with me as a souvenir and just kept my wish to myself! I am that kind of weirdo.

The dance stage
Kyoto is well-known for its Gion Matsuri which is the festival of Yasaka Shrine in almost a month-long celebration during summer. The event is said to be particularly impressive and famous in Japan.

The festival includes a grand procession of extravagantly designed floats and a couple of other side events which includes carrying the shrine's deity around the town through a portable shrine set on wooden beams.

Main hall (on the right) and dance stage (left). I heard these lanterns are lit at night. I could just imagine how beautiful it will look like.

But what makes me so interested are the enshrined deities in Yasaka Shrine. Amaterasu (Goddess of the Sun, a major deity of the Shinto religion) and Susanoo (God of the Sea and Storms) are worshipped respectively. Do their names ring a bell? Sounds like you did your NARUTO (Mangekyo Sharingan) homework very well.
According to Japanese mythology, Susanoo is a troublesome younger brother of Amaterasu. As the God of Sea and Storms, Susanoo would destroy forests and mountains that would kill locals down on earth and so he was exiled from Heaven. 

Long story short, down on earth, he redeemed himself this time by doing something good. While on earth, Susanoo heard the terror caused by an eight-head serpent called "Yamata no Orochi" (Orochimaru? Naruto again) who ate the daughters of this one old couple in the past seven years, one daughter each year. And now they're down to their 8th daughter, their last daughter.

Susanoo successfully killed the serpent and married the couples' daughter. Susanoo also discovered a special sword from the Serpent's body which he then gave to his sister Amaterasu as an apology for his misdeeds.

What a view! Nope, I didn't ask them to post for me.
Before totally leaving Yasaka Shrine, I dropped by the nearby Maruyama Park. I heard it's famous and packed during Cherry blossoms season but since it was almost the end of Spring when I visited, I found less visitors and interesting sightings so I left rather quickly.
Hanami-Koji street in Gion District
One piece of advice if you're heading to Gion? Remember that Gion isn't exactly a small particular place but rather a huge district composed of different streets.

Gion is filled with shops, restaurants, and old wooden houses called machiya. I also spotted a couple of ochaya (teahouses) where geisha and maiko entertain. I was not able to see any geisha though, probably because I was there during lunch time.

If you're in Kyoto mainly to see a geisha, please do remember that geishas and maikos are humans just like us and must be treated with respect. Please do not lurk around, stalk and take unwarranted photos like that of a paparazzi.

The most popular street in Gion is Hanami-koji. A nice but expensive place to dine, they said. Here I remember spotting a HERMES boutique disguising as a simple old wooden house (machiya). I even remember pausing for a few seconds when I saw the Hermes logo in the middle of this street full of old traditional wooden houses, I was really like "are my eyes playing tricks on me?" Too bad I didn't take a photo but I found a website link in case you're interested (Read it here)

At the end of Hanami-koji I found a huge garden that houses a Zen Buddhist temple called Kenninji Temple. The area is pretty huge with a couple of visitors and many sightings but due to time constraint, I left early with no photos. But hey! Another reason to go back to Kyoto, right? :)

And that's a wrap for my day trip to Kyoto. Got any questions and suggestions? Feel free to drop them down below.

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