Sunday, July 3, 2011

Guest Post: Japan Temples

Summer Guest Blog Series: Favorite Travel Memories
Japan is a top travel destination for many travelers and although I haven't made it to Japan (yet!), Barbara's guest post below and her photos from the temples in Kyoto, especially of the Golden Pavillion, sure do inspire me to hop on the next plane to Japan! 

My precious memories of my trip to Japan include beautiful temples and shrines. They are numerous and each has a distinct personality. Kyoto is a city with over 2000 temples and shrines so it is a good place to see many in a relatively short time. Kyoto is also a friendly city and easy to navigate. It is convenient and fast to take a train and walk to many of the temples in the city. For temples outside the city, it is easy to find day tours which take you there. There are tour companies located in and around the train station.

Whichever temple you visit, you are likely to see rows of white paper twisted on what look like clotheslines. These are pieces of paper on which you write a request or a prayer. The slips of paper are in a box near the temple. You are free to take one, fill it in and tie it to the line. You can hear the paper prayers fluttering in the breeze. No matter if you believe or not in the power of prayer it is impressive to see this manifestation of faith by so many believers. In case you’re wondering… yes, I left a prayer. I’m a writer and believe in miracles. This is a perfect combination for me. In the picture below, you can see the lines of prayers at the front and side of the Heian shrine (Kyoto), also called the orange and green shrine (for obvious reasons).

At the Kiyomizu complex (Kyoto), you follow a winding path up the hillside, a path lined with handicraft, souvenir and pottery shops. It is fun to shop as you climb and then, where the shops end, you begin to see the numerous smaller shrines on the way to the top of the hill. One of these is a small shrine with an open facade where you can see little statues with red capes or bibs and orange bonnets. These are called mizuko jizo, statuettes representing aborted, stillborn or miscarried babies. Some have toys placed beside them. Jizo, one of the bodhisattva (enlightened being) in Buddhism, is the protector of these “returned” children, also called water children. The figurines are bought by the woman or the family and placed in special shrines such as this one for a certain amount of time, until a formal ritual and offering is made for their souls. After this, these unborn will be able to pass across the river separating the living from the dead. It is a jarring sight, yet comforting.

The last Kyoto temple picture I have to share is of the famous Golden Pavillion- Rokuon- Ji Temple. It was built by the Third Shogun of Ashikaga in 1397. He wanted it to be a peaceful site and in his will specified that it become a Zen temple. The second and third stories are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. In the footpaths around the temple, you pass rock gardens, ponds and smaller shrines. It is absolutely stunning.

Barbara Bunce Desmeules, a native of Montreal, is a high school librarian who doubles as a freelance writer. She has written about topics as varied as: living in a Korean monastery, spa life, mixing and muddling drinks and haute cuisine at the CIA(culinary institute of America). She has 2 essays published in a recent anthology: Prose To Go: Tales from a private list. When not reading, writing or working, she travels and shares her experiences at: 

Want to submit a guest post to Connvoyage? Get details HERE!

© Connie Hum 2011


  1. I am sooo glad someone finally uncovered the mystery (to me) of the little stone statues wearing bibs. I saw them several places in Japan and was always so curious about their meaning. It's sad, though.

  2. Now that's a great memory. Thanks for recounting it for us and I love the photo with what looks like golden beanies.

  3. @Melanie Ehler Definitely sad, though I think there's something beautiful about commemorating them and the life they never got to live. Glad that Babara could shed some light for us! I agree, it's a GREAT memory! Thanks to Barbara again for being the first in my summer favorite travel memory guest post series!


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