About ten miles east of Kyoto is the town of Sakamoto, on the shore of Lake Biwa. We took a commuter line out to Sakamoto Station to begin our uphill pilgrimage to Hieizan (Mount Hiei), home to the Buddhist monastery of Enryakuji and several temples and shrines,
Just outside Sakamoto Station is an enclosure planted with tea for the shrines. You walk up the hill into the cool shade of a cedar and pine forest to the shrines of Hiyoshi Taisha. Some of my pictures show trees or large stones garlanded with a sacred rope with streamers. According to the Shinto religion, kami or spirits can reside in natural things, so very old trees or stones may be revered in this way. You'll also see depictions of monkeys, which are regarded as divine messengers, and guardian lions on the shrine verandas.
From here, we took a cable car up to the mountaintop monastery of Enryakuji, headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism since the late 700s. I don't have interior shots as they were not permitted. While in the main teaching hall, we met a young monk who realized our interest and spent some time with us talking about the founding monk, Saicho, and the principles of Buddhism in relation to what we were seeing there. Unlike many temples, the healing Buddha in their main hall stands at eye level to the worshipper, reminding us that we too are capable of reaching enlightenment. Great conversation and I wished we could have chatted with him longer.
Josh, Ellen and I checked out some of the monastery's treasures, mostly wooden religious sculptures of buddhas and guardian spirits dating back as much as a thousand years. Cori and Andy walked around the complex some more - it's got breathaking views of Lake Biwa and the autumn color is just starting to take hold.
We took the cable car back down the mountain and caught the train back to Kyoto. We walked up to the Heian Jingu Shrine not far from where we're staying and had time to explore its lovely garden before sunset, then headed out into the night in search of a restaurant Ellen and Josh had read of.
I admit I was footsore and exhausted at this point, but the destination turned out to be well worth it. Okariba is an izakaya owned by a man who hunts and fishes and specializes in serving the produce of his efforts. We had smoked duck "bacon," barbecued boar, venison sashimi in ponzu sauce, trout grilled with salt, candied grasshoppers (I ate one, it tasted OK, but the little legs bothered me so I didn't have more), bee larvae, fresh soba noodles. Aoki-san, seeing how we liked everything, then brought out jars of shochu (rice spirit) with Japanese wasps in the bottom of one jar and a snake in the other. And his homemade plum wine was amazing - at the end of the night he came over, handed me a funnel and a screwtop and filled a bottle for me to take home. Incredible food, even the more exotic bits, and the owner is such a nice guy. It was great fun.
I'll post more with tomorrow's upload!