Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yoshimine-dera 善峯寺 - Saikoku #20

The Main Gate

Place Name: Yoshimine-dera 善峯寺
Type: Temple 寺
Location: Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto Prefecture, JAPAN
Latitude: 34.938172
Longitude: 135.644203
Date of Visit: April 16, 2012
Access: Hankyu Bus #66 from Hankyu Higashi Muko station or JR Muko-cho station
Fee: Adults ¥500 / Parking ¥500
Hours: 8:00~17:00

Every temple in the Saikoku 33 pilgrimage is a special place. The surrounding landscape, as I have mentioned before, is equally unique. The monks who nearly 1,000 years ago that established this temple also must have found the landscape intriguing enough to warrant such an outlay of labor, material and treasure to build these amazing complexes. Yoshimine-dera is located up a steep, tight valley west of downtown Kyoto. It’s on the opposite side of the Kyoto basin of the much more popular and well-known Kyomizu-dera. While being listed on some of the Kyoto city tourism websites in English this was my first time hearing of it, and that is only thanks to its inclusion as the 20th temple in the Saikoku 33 temple pilgrimage.

The terraced garden

Driving up to the temple requires trust of your maps and car navi. Kyoto, in general, is much tougher to drive in than any other area in Kansai. Small streets that really should be alleys and the local drivers who take them at breakneck speeds. After passing under the currently under construction Kyoto Jyukan Expressway the temple road (京都府道208号) really begins to pick up elevation. Along the way are signs advertising bamboo shoots (takenoko 竹の子) that are harvested from the surrounding forests. The neighborhoods on the foot of Mt. Nishiyama are locally famous for this spring vegetable. We picked up a decently sized bag for ¥1,000. The road’s steep final accent leads to two parking lots. The older lower lot has a good set of switchbacks to get to the temple, or you could skip them and use the upper lot.

Looking down on the Yuryu no Matsu

The temple complex takes 30-40 minutes to walk through and covers 30,000 tsubo or about 9 KM2--if I converted that correctly. The two guardian king statues that are placed on either side of the main gate were made by Unkei a Kamakura era sculptor. His painterly statues are considered some of the best in Japanese art and include many national treasures some of which are kept in the treasure hall in Kofuku-ji in Nara. From the main gate where the entrance fee is taken it’s a short walk to the main temple and where you get your scroll signed as we did. The main temple building is majestic and beautiful, but is overshadowed by the surrounding buildings and gardens.

Okozui Well

Directly to the right of the main temple a door is built into the rock lined retaining wall. Behind that door is a natural well. The water, known as Okozui (お香水), is used in offerings to Buddha and believed to extend ones life. Next to the door is a tray for monetary offerings, a selection of cups, funnels and some ladles. Nearby, hidden under the temple stairs were a few 2-liter plastic bottles, the stash of temple visitor who left them there to fill up after they walked the grounds. The water was cool and had a soft feel in the mouth. It is rare that one can drink water that is unprocessed, un-bottled, untouched by anything other than nature. Drinking this well water alone makes the trip to Yoshimine-dera worthwhile.

Making prayers and the water here is also said to help cure neuralgia and chronic lower back pain. In fact, the temple used to offer a prayer and bath service once a month to the faithful. Sadly the service has been cancelled.

Yuryu no Matsu

There are many other natural treasures found in the temple grounds. Sakura, ajisai, and momiji among other flowers are all cultivated on the grounds and attract viewers when they are in bloom. The most famous and greatest natural attraction is the 600 year old Japanese white pine, Yuryu no Matsu (遊龍の松). This tree spreads out in a flat 90-degree bend over along a terrace above the main temple. It is like a giant human sized bonsai tree. The age of this magnificent tree can be seen in its twisted knotted wood. Just like the bristlecone pines of California’s eastern Sierra, the Yuryu no Matsu has a sense of wisdom and age that is instantly apparent from first sight.

Yuyru no Matsu and a Weeping Sakura

Other gardens, temple buildings, small shrines, pagodas, and a toilet with an amazing view of downtown Kyoto, including the oft-maligned Kyoto Tower, are all here for exploration. Every one of the Saikoku 33 temples is an extraordinary place, but some are so amazing that they should be visited whether you are on the pilgrimage or not. Yoshimine-dera is one of those temples.
Looking towards the main gate

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sleepytako’s list of amazing, interesting, odd, strange, out of the way, and extraordinary places.

Douglas, Wyo Liquor Shop Sign.

I’ve been writing this blog for 6 or so years now and I decided I needed to give it a theme--a reason for being. I’m going to rebrand the blog from a disjointed connection of posts about living in Japan to something more solid. From now on this space will feature some of the amazing places that I’ve traveled to throughout Japan and the USA. There are so many places I have had the pleasure to explore and I wish that many of my readers could enjoy too. I’ve already turned my onsen and sento places into their own website with I Love Yu, why not also document all the non-sento places in the same way.

I’ll also be continuing my guide to exploring Japan using the Seisun 18 Kippu.

I hope you find it helpful and interesting.


Hopp by Ylva Krantz

Hopp by Ylva Krantz by sleepytako
Hopp by Ylva Krantz, a photo by sleepytako on Flickr.

My photo of students jumping during their sports festival has been painted by an artist in Sweden.

I love the wood showing through. It's something that I use to do when I painted, but I never painted anything as good as this.

I'm honored that anyone liked my photo this much.

Thank Ylva!

Original Photo:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Truth or Conseqences, NM

Signs in the twilight.

Place Name: Truth or Consequences
Type: City
Population: 7,289 (2000 census)
Location: Sierra County, New Mexico, USA
Latitude: 33.133611 
Longitude: -107.252778

Truth or Consequences. People hear of this city because of the movie of the same name or on a list of strange addresses next to DISH, TX and Santa Claus, CA. I doubt many actually visit. The history of the name change is simple enough: tourism. A popular TV game show in the 1950s promised a visit from the host and other promotional benefits if a city would name itself after the show. T or C, as the locals and the Weather Channel calls it, was thus born.

In a sense the name encapsulates the anything for a buck Western capitalism and the harsh reality of living in the arid and unforgiving environment.

T or C was originally named Hot Springs after ample springs and man made wells that tap into the aquifer below. The springs make up an important part of the city's tourist based income. Many hotels and small resorts in the old downtown area cater to America's small but enthusiastic hot spring community.

Today the city is a very Western mix of a sleepy old town lost in time, hippies and counter-culture, and Jeffersonian individualism with a heavy Hispanic influence. The one main supermarket still used the square carts I last saw in the early 1980's when I was in kindergarten. The Walmart up on a hill near the interstate only opened two years prior to our visit. There's a spattering of chain restaurants and shops but many local establishments still remain. The local hamburger drive-in still serves malts and closes at 8. 8:30 on the weekends.

We spent two nights there in a small converted motor-court turned unique hotel with a private outdoor bath out back. Our days mostly spent in the spring or being lazy in the hotel. Besides the springs, the English accented lady at the tourist information office suggested having a picnic at the local ghost town 45 minutes down the road which we enjoyed.

T or C with it's unique geological features, preserved downtown with some great old buildings still in use and it's beautiful landscape makes it worth inclusion on my list of extraordinary places. No wonder J.B. Jackson chose New Mexico for his home. 
Date of Visit: March 28 ~ 30, 2012

The beautiful, Romanesque U.S. Post Office. Looking at this building makes one yearn for the ideal America that you know could exist.
Signage for the local drugstore in a style that was once ubiquitous but now rare in the metropolitan areas of the west.