“Buddhist monk at the Kodai-ji Zen Temple”

Kyoto, Japan. October-November 2018. (12 photos)

This is part 2 of my Japan 2018 photo series.

Kyoto (京都) is a city in the Kansai region of Japan. It was the Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years until 1868 when the Emperor moved to Edo which was then renamed to Tokyo, and became the new capital of Japan. The bullet train (shinkansen) takes only two hours and twenty minutes to take you past Mount Fuji and on to Kyoto from Tokyo. Kyoto is possible as a day trip from Tokyo but you’d need to have a well planned limited itinerary. I stayed 5 nights in Kyoto.

Kyoto is one of the few Japanese cities that still has an abundance of pre-war buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. These days it is famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, and geisha.

“Kyoto Zen, 8am”

“The colours of Japan”

At the Yasaka Koshindo Temple, probably the most colourful temple in Kyoto.

One of the first things you will notice in Kyoto, after the numerous tourists dressed in kimonos, is the numerous shrines and temples. I believe there are over 1600 of them, Shinto and Zen Buddhist.

Zen and Shinto are both religions with a long history and significant influence in Japan. Shinto is a system of nature and ancestor worship with prehistoric roots in that country, and its traditions are interwoven with Japanese life at a basic, almost primordial, level. Zen, on the other hand, is a branch of Buddhism that came to Japan via China in the 12th century and has a large body of teachings that includes those of Buddhism in general.

“The Torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha”

Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. It is said there are over 10,000 Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha. I lost count at 17.

“Fushimi Inari after dark”

By the way, in Japanese mythology Inari is the god of rice cultivation. Remember that fact next time you eat a piece of inari sushi, something in ready abundance from the street stalls at the entrance to this Temple complex.


“Tenryu-ji outlook”

Tenryu-ji is a world heritage listed temple in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district. Tenryu-ji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji. The gardens survive today still in their original form.

“Bright eyes, burning like fire”

Little critter spotted in a lane off Hanamikoji dori one evening. This area is considered prime geisha/geiko/maiko territory and I can attest to the truth of that. The book, Memoirs of a Geisha, is set in Kyoto.

“Kyoto Zen”

“Women in kimonos near Hokan-ji”

“Kyoto gold”

Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, literally “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It is designated as a National Special Historic Site, a National Special Landscape and is one of 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are World Heritage Sites. The Golden Pavilion is a three-story building on the grounds of the temple complex. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf. I took this photo in the golden hour near sunset.

“Kyoto Zen and the finding of illumination”

Night illuminations at Kodai-ji Zen Temple

This is part 2 of my Japan 2018 photo series.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Kyoto Zen


82 thoughts on “Kyoto Zen

  1. Stunning photos, Draco. I lived in Kyoto 30 years ago, and these photos brought it all back. And the autumn colours are amazing. I don’t remember visiting Tenryu-ji (there are so many), but it reminded me of Sanzenin north of Kyoto. A lovely collection.

    • Thank you very much. I think I was a week or two too early for the really vibrant colours in Kyoto but I saw a decent display of colours. Kyoto would have been so different years ago before the tourist hordes.
      Yes, so many temples of varying size in Kyoto. Tenryu-ji is basically next to Arashiyama bamboo grove.

      • I love the bamboo grove, and I’m glad it’s still there. We gaijin used to walk through the bamboo and up the Katsura River from Arashiyama and swim in the summer. Happy days, cycling everywhere in Kyoto and walking in the hills. Cheers

    • Thank you. The funny thing is the first time I walked past Yasaka Koshindo I thought it was some kind of amusement centre. I wasn’t until I came by again that I decided to look in.
      Yes, there is so much more to see in kyoto. I hope I do get the chance to go back.

  2. Hi LD- You’ve captured some wonderful scenes of Kyoto. You always manage to find interesting compositions of well traveled scenes. As I mentioned, we were walking these streets just a few weeks before you. What a fabulous trip!

  3. Heide says:

    I love the sign outside the museum/shop — isn’t it the very definition of zen to stop when you are tired? And your images are just gorgeous, as usual.

  4. Beyond beautiful. I envy your lens on the world—the wonders you get to see and the images you capture. But mostly I regret I will never have these memories. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Tourists are dressed in kimonos in Kyoto?

    I’ve long wanted to return to Japan and your colorful photos are helping me ogle various aspects of the country. I’m especially fond, in this post, of your capture of the bamboo wall in “Kyoto Zen.”

    • There are many stores that hire out male/female kimonos for a day and a lot of tourists (mostly asian) do it and then go around, snapping selfies as you would expect. After having to take my shoes off for the 5th time in a day to enter a temple, those kimonos and sandals made perfect sense. 🙂

      Thank you kindly. I think it’s a common response for people who visit Japan to want to return. I know do.

  6. Wonderful city. Beautiful photos. I liked “Colours of Japan” and the full-frontal view in “Kyoto Zen”.

    My first sight of Kinkakuji was in pouring August rain, Irises blooming on the near shore of the lake, rain so hard that it looked like fog, and through it the golden pavilion visible faintly. I didn’t dare to bring out my camera. That memory is better than all the photos I have taken since.

  7. Good gracious….I look at these photos and mine from my visit to Kyoto and the similarities are NIL. ha ha. Yours are fabulous. You have captured what I saw with my eyes so well and so beautifully. I loved the gold temple too.

  8. I’m speechless. Well, not completely but it’s all good. So beautiful. And it’s interesting to me to see the traditional dress (kimonos) still used by young people. I’m sure I’m the first to recognize that Tokyo is just Kyoto rearranged (LOL). Love that store sign. Now, there’s someone with a sense of humor! I love those beautiful fans and the gardens are magnificent. What a wonderful trip! 🙂

  9. Doesn’t Hokan-ji’s pagoda look stunningly “modern”? I don’t know why, but the spire is something I’d imagine seeing in a Ray Bradbury 1960 sci-fi book.

    Loved the Ukiyoe museum’s sign. Not being Japanese, the language barrier and relative shyness of people there has always been a bit of a wall, but I felt this wall being the lowest in Kyoto, with people being the ‘quirkiest’ if that’s a word.


    • I wondered if the spire at the top of various pagodas were authentic or modern additions. It seems most are authentic but near the top is a wire structure with a wire leading down (to the ground?), possibly to counteract lightning strikes.
      Interesting observations from the sign. Quirkiest? Hard to say based on my limited experience. Every city/region has its contenders. 🙂

  10. Tourist hotspots like this are hard to make look original in photos, but you did an excellent job and put a nice spin on them. Like in the photo of the geisha blending in with the colors – love it! And even the classical Fushimi Inari shot, you managed to get the shades dancing a bit 🙂 Well done!

  11. Love the composition and tones of ‘The Colors of Japan” and the vivid follow-up with ‘Fans’. But no one does color better than Mother Nature as you’ve illustrated with your postcard perfect ‘Tenryu-ji outlook’ But Man comes close to perfect with ‘Kinkaku-ji’, blending it so brilliantly with Mother Nature’s. Kyoto gold indeed.

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