We arrived in Kyoto on the 24th of October. I had put on my wish list the traditional Kitano flea market which is held on the 25th of every month. So quite naturally, it was our first stop.
I could have spent the whole day there because everything was what I expected. My budget did not allow me to buy much but just looking at the stalls, touching the vintage kimonos, rummaging in boxes, smelling the sweet soy caramel from the Dango (団子) seller, observing the hundreds of onlookers…
After the market, we were introduced to our first shinto shrine by our Japanese friends. The haiden is where you pay your respects to the kami-sama. In front of the haiden is an offertory box called a ‘saisen-bako’. This space is known as the ‘sei-chuu’, the passageway that the gods walk through.
Gently drop or toss an offering into the saisen-bako. If there is a bell in front of the haiden, take hold of the rope with both hands and give it a firm shake to call the kami-sama. Traditionally, the ringing of the bell was believed to ward off evil spirits. So ringing also helps to purify the space for the kami-sama’s arrival.
Two-two-one（二礼二拍手一礼）or ‘ni-rei, ni-hakushu, ichi-rei’ is a phrase that Japanese people use to remember the proper order for praying at a shrine. It means ‘two bows, two claps, one bow.’
First, greet the kami-sama by bowing deeply two times. Next, clap two times to express your appreciation to the kami-sama.
Then, offer your silent prayer to the kami-sama. At the end of your prayer, excuse yourself with a final bow. (More details here)
Next, we were off to KIYOMIZU-DERA.
After finding your way through the maze of the Gion’s small shopping streets and the difficult climb of Higashiyama Hill, your reward lies in the intense red of the details of the deva gate, which contrasts sharply with the blue sky! But the place is crowded!!! And that’s when I realized the Kyoto I imagined probably existed only before 6am!
The Higashiyama District (東山) along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best preserved historic districts. But it made me think of the Mont St Michel! So many tourists, so many shops for tourists, so many very, very bright kimonos…
When we arrived later that day in our traditional guest house, I realized I had expected to like Kyoto much better than Tokyo when planning our trip. But the real essence of Kyoto seems much more difficult to define. If you’re going to Japan to fill your Instagram feed and blog actively, this city is perfect and you’ll fit right in. I’ve witnessed so many selfie photographers, and Stories video makers privatising alleys striking the usual pose!
Is Kyoto victim of its own success…? Or is it just me?
If you’ve been to Kyoto, I’d love to read about your first impressions. Please, feel free to comment.