Japanese temple set in a lush green forest © 2011 Jordan Harper. All rights reserved.

Shrine on

Day 16 — 13 August 2010

There’s no getting away from the fact that Kyoto’s main attraction is its impressive collection of temples and shrines. I actually found myself surprised to see signs of the 21st century in the town when we arrived: I think I expected it to be all low-rise, wooden houses with paper walls.

We were staying in the Gion area of Kyoto — the old Geisha district — which is very close to the magnificent Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), the water temple (mizu 水, is the Japanese word for water). After a long and sweaty walk to the top of a rather large hill, we arrived at the enormous temple complex whose crown jewel is a pair of platforms that seem to float in the densely forested mountainside. It really is quite a sight.

After the water temple we made our way to the Sanjūsangen-dō (三十三間堂) temple, a long, narrow building famous for hosting a gruelling archery competition: participants would sit and fire arrows into a target 60m away for 24 hours. The still-standing record was set in 1686 by Wasa Daihachiro, who hit the target with 8,133 out of 13,053 arrows — that’s over 9 arrows fired every minute for 24 hours.

In addition to the archery competition, Sanjūsangen-dō is famous for housing 1,000 statues of the buddhist god Kannon, most of the made in the 13th century. The Japanese cypress statues — displayed along the length of the hall 10 rows deep — are a truly incredible sight, peacefully standing watch over the visitors.

Our weary legs propelled us towards afternoon tea and cakes in the nearby Hyatt (call it a treat to make up for the mildly disastrous cooking the night before) before we headed back to Gion to explore the nightlife and get some well-deserved food.

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