At the end of the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi reorganised Kyoto’s streets. During the earlier Heian era, there was a wide street in the east of the city, known as Higashikyogoku-oji. It was a place where the well-off lived. Hideyoshi, while remodelling the city, moved most of the temples east to this area and renamed the street Teramachi, which translates as Temple Town. When the area was revitalised as a shopping area in the Meiji period, two shopping streets were created with the eastern side of Teramachi becoming Shinkyogoku Dori between Sanjo Dori and Shijo Dori.
In October 2010, we decided to explore the Temple Town area of Kyoto, following a walk in Judith Clancy‘s book Exploring Kyoto. We took a subway train north from the station close to our apartment and got off at Kuramaguchi station. It’s a short walk east from the station along Kuramaguchi Dori to the first temple on the walk, Kanga’an. Kanga’an means Restful Retreat and is built in a style similar to the architecture of Ming dynasty China. The small entrance gate is lovely, and peeping inside we saw a group of statues in a gravelled courtyard.
Further along the road was the next temple, one of those moved during Hideyoshi’s remodelling of Kyoto. We found this temple, Jozenji, to be a very restful place.
Jozenji stands at the top of Teramachi Dori. This was the beginning of our long walk.
We popped into Tenneiji to see the view of Mount Hiei.
Also in the temple grounds is a small Inari shrine, illustrating the mix of Buddhism and Shinto in the lives of Japanese people.
The next temple that we recognised from the walk in Judith Clancy’s book was Amidaiji. As promised in the book, it looked closed! There was a 7-Eleven across the street, so we popped in for some refreshment (plum onigiri – yum!) before continuing on our way.
I was taken by the architecture of Junenji, which looked a lot like the churches that were built in the UK during the late 50s and early 60s. I particularly like the circular main hall, with its splash of red door, and the very serene statue of Ojizo sitting in front.
Just after the next temple, opposite a sushi shop that looked very nice but that we didn’t risk, being vegetarians, we took a right turn along a long street that led to the huge temple complex of Shokokuji. We tried to go into the Hatto to see the ceiling painting of the dragon, but we couldn’t because the monks had their best robes on and were clearly in the middle of something important.
Instead we wandered around the grounds, which used to contain forty six buildings, many of which were destroyed in fires shortly after the temple complex was completed. New buildings were added, but lots of these, too, were destroyed in the great Tenmei fire in 1788. Only a few buildings remain.
We headed back to the sushi restaurant on Teramachi Dori. We were hungry by this point, but still not hungry enough to eat fish, so we continued on our way. We made a detour along a covered shopping arcade, but this also was all about the fish. We couldn’t see anything resembling a cafe or udon bar.
Our aching feet drove us down to the junction with Imadegawa Dori, past the stone post marking the north eastern corner of ancient Kyoto, further down Teramachi Dori. We weren’t really looking at the temples mentioned in the book by this point, because they were mainly closed to the public.
We were headed for Rozanji, which I wanted to see because I was reading The Tale of Genji. This temple is built on the site of Lady Murasaki’s father’s Kyoto residence and includes a roof tile from the house as well as a display of reproductions of the Genji chapter that Murasaki might have written at the house. When we got there, it was closed for building work. We hadn’t thought to check beforehand whether it would be open or not. We sat on a wall opposite the very closed doors and I had a little think about what we should do next. Disappointment and hunger are not happy bedfellows!
At the next available gateway, we turned into the Imperial Palace grounds. On our very first day in Kyoto, when our jet lag had rendered us incapable of rational thought, we had meandered around the grounds and eaten a fine bowl of kitsune udon at the visitor centre near the Palace. Our legs must have had some kind of muscle memory, because they marched us past teenagers playing softball, along gravel paths lined with trees in autumn foliage, back to the visitor centre.
After our steaming hot bowls of udon, we kind of abandoned the walk. We caught the subway south and made our way to Nishiki market to pick up ingredients for our evening meal. Maybe one day we’ll go back to Rozanji and pick up the walk again. There are lots of interesting places mentioned in the book that we haven’t really noticed on our shopping mooches up and down the covered arcades. One such is the memorial to another Heian era poet Izumi Shikibu.
We did wander up Teramachi Dori towards Oike Dori after we’d done our shopping, and saw the statue of Nichiren outside Honnoji temple, which was closed.
We wandered back down to Shinkyogoku Dori, over the slope created by the mounds of earth left behind when Sanjo bridge was constructed, and past the temples we had intended to investigate if only we hadn’t grown so tired!
We passed Nishiki Tenmangu, of course. We’ve visited this shrine on a few occasions, always pausing to pat the bronze bull on our way in. Sometimes it is open later than other shrines or temples, but this time we were out of luck. This picture is from another visit.
The walk is one that I think we should finish. Judith Clancy’s background information is interesting. Most of the snippets in this post are gleaned from her more in depth descriptions. I think we bit off more than we could chew in trying to walk the whole length in half a day. At least without preparing a bento to take with us.