Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa & Saiho-ji

Trip Start Jan 02, 2013
Trip End Mar 17, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Thursday, February 28, 2013

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My guide from Kyoto Free Guides came by my hotel early today.  We had an early reservation at the Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa, which is quite some distance from the hotel.  We went across the street to Kyoto Station and caught a taxi.  It was a sunny, relatively warm day, which was a vast improvement over yesterday.

The Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa is known for its gardens.  The tour is a bit regimented and only done in Japanese but they do have an audio guide in English and the gardens are magnificent. 

Our next reservation was for Saiho-ji.  The reservation process for Saiho-ji is rather complicated and at 3,000 yen (over $30) it seems a bit expensive to me but it's unique and an interesting place to visit. 

You first take off your shoes and go into the temple.  The only way you get to see Saiho-ji is by taking part in their religous ceremony first.  They have low tables lined up on the sides of the temple.  After we were all seated on the floor a couple monks came in.  They started chanting and one played a wooden drum and the other played a couple metal bells that had tones similar to the bell in the Taco Bell ads. 

After the ceremony was over we all mixed ink by rubbing what I believe was a graphite stick in a little bit of water in a shallow, flat dish.  We then wrote our name and address on one side of a wooden stick and our wish on the other side.  The sticks are then placed on a table at the front of the temple.  The priests will later pray for your wishes and burn the sticks.

We then headed for the gardens.  Unlike at the Imperial Villa, you're largely on your own although you aren't allowed to step off the path.  The gardens aren't like any gardens I've ever seen before.  There are lots of tall trees and carefully arranged rocks, which you see elsewhere, but the ground is nearly entirely covered by moss, which is why the temple is also known as Koke-dera, which translates to Moss Temple. I've seen places covered in moss in the Pacific Northwest but they had significantly more undergrowth.  This garden is relatively clear and the moss seems relatively exposed compared to where I'm used to seeing moss grow.

There's a large pond with a number of small islands in it.  Paths and bridges connect all of the islands to the land surrounding the pond. The islands are all covered in moss too,  It's a really strange environment.

We then headed for Jizo-in, which is a short walk away from Saiho-ji.  The teple isn't impressive but it also has a moss garden and lots of bamboo.

When we were done at Jizo-in we caught a bus back to Kyoto Station and called it a day.
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