Fire Festival, Sanjusangen-do, Chioin, Heian Jingu

Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2010

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ML International

Flag of Japan  , Kyōto,
Saturday, October 22, 2011

When I was planning for hiking in Odaigahara, I found that it was best to stay overnight in Nara. However, because I was not interested in sights of Nara, I chose to go to Kyoto first and to attend two festivals there: Jidai Festival and Kurama Fire Festival. Unfortunately, the former was postponed to the next day, because of a heavy rain. Even on the day before, however, it was predictable from the weather forecast, so I was not disappointed, when I heard it at TIC of Kyoto Station. Actually, it was not a big problem, because there were a lot of tourist attractions in Kyoto and I just went to plan B. 

Then the first destination was Sanjusan-gendo Hall of Rengeo-in Temple, which was one of the most popular tourist attractions of Kyoto. The main attraction of the hall was 1001 Kannon statues. Although the entrance fee was a bit pricey, the statues were impressive. All of them have different faces and it is said that one of them has the same face as yours. Another attraction was twenty-eight attendants. Interestingly, their legends were somehow simple in Japanese and detailed in English. I should have asked about it. Unfortunately, it was prohibited to take a picture in the hall, because of a religious reason. What was worse, even in the pamphlet, there was no picture of the Kannons. So I felt like buying a photo book, but it cost 500 yen and it was not affordable to me...

Other tourist attractions near Sanjusangen-do were Toyokuni Shrine and Hokoji Temple. They were not as famous and impressive as Sanjusangen-do, but important landmarks related to the Toyotomi clan. I don't go into details about them, because I don't think you are interested in Japanese history (if you are, please read the caption of my picture of Hokoji Temple Bell Inscriptions), but you may be impressed by the largest temple bell of Japan in Hokoji Temple. It is 82.7 tons in weight and 4.2 meters in height. The admission to the temple is free. When I visited the temple, a guide of the temple was followed by some visitors, so I was luckily able to overhear her explanation of the bell. Incidentally, the beautiful Karamon Gate of Toyokuni Shrine is said to be a remnant of Fushimi Castle, which is designated as a National Treasure.  

It was cloudy, when I left for the next destiantion Chionin. Incidentally, Kyotoites call the temple Chioin. It is the head temple of the Jodo sect (Pure Land sect) of Buddhism, which the Tokugawa shogunate followed. ("Technically", I belong to the True Pure Land sect, but it is no problem to visit the temple at all.) The wooden gate is the largest of its kind in Japan and that attracted me to the temple. In fact, I visited the temple 25 years ago, but I remembered only the fact that I had visited the temple. The temple gate was surely gigantic, but I was not stunned like the time I saw the Sanmon Gate of Nanzenji Temple, which was only a bit smaller than that of Chionin. Another attraction of the temple was its temple bell. On New Year's Eve, the bell is hit by 17 monks and the scene appears on the live TV program "Yukutoshi, Kurutoshi (The Going Year, The Coming Year)". Although the bell of Hokoji Temple was larger than that of Chionin, it was still a must-see to me. The gate to the belfry was almost closed and the guard told me to see it quick. Actually, it really didn't take much time, because it was just a large temple bell except on New Year's Eve... When I left Chionin, the rain started to get heavy, so I took shelter at a souvenir shop in front of the gate.

When the rain got lighter, I departed for Heian Jingu Shrine. The shrine would have been supposed to be the goal of the procession of the Jidai Festival, if it had not been cancelled on the day. On the both sides of the approach, there were many chairs arranged for spectators. Interestingly, the Suzakumon Gate, the main gate of the shrine, looked similar to that of Nara Heijokyo Palace. Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 in commemoration of 1,100 years of the national capital transfer to Kyoto, so it is comparatively new for a shrine of Kyoto, but one of the popular sights. I thought vermilion-lacquered buildings with green roofs were peculiar to only old buildings of Nara, but the shrine buildings also had those noble colours. There were some parade costumes left under the eves of the shrine buildings and nobody was watching them. That shocked me, because I had heard that the costumes were very expensive...  

The last destination of the day was Kurama. I was glad to hear that the Kurama Fire Festival would be held even in rain, but at the same time, I didn't want to keep standing to watch the festival in rain. In any case, it was absurd to miss the festival in spite of the reality that I was in Kyoto on the day. So I made up my mind to attend the festival. The train to Kurama was crowded, but someone said that it was not as crowded as usual, because of the rain. Surprisingly, about one-third passengers were foreign tourists. Maybe all the foreign tourists of the day in Kyoto were headed to Kurama. When I got off the train at Kurama at quarter past six, it just started to rain. There were some policemen controlling the crowd, saying "You cannot stop to watch the festival. Keep walking!". So spectators had to keep walking in the crowd in rain, as long as they were in the festival venue. It was a nightmare. I felt like going home ASAP. In the festival, some guys and children carrying a large torch on fire walked up and down the venue street. That was all I watched before leaving Kurama at eight. I knew the festival would reach the climax at around nine, but I couldn't put up with the terrible condition. After I arrived at my guesthouse in Shin-Omiya at half past ten, I went to the bathroom and got shocked at my bloody urine in the toilet bowl...

Kurama Fire Festival (from YouTube)
Kurama Fire Festival is one of the prominent traditional Japanese festivals and it is reasonable for foreign tourists to love it.
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