We walk south, through a city that is only just awakening. The great Buddhist temples are complexes, filled with shrines, gardens, private living areas, ceremonial spaces, blessing shops and food stands.
We enter Yasaka Shrine, then Murayama Park, onward south through the amazing Higashiyama district. Shopkeepers roll up their doors, sweep their porches, stock their displays.
Many stores and restaurants offer one thing. A thousand delicate fans, a hundred types of pickled vegetables or a vast variety of mochi treats stuffed with various pastes: red bean, green tea, chocolate. We sample buckwheat tea, green tea, oolong tea, while AliSun keeps an eye out for matcha.
The streets climb steadily higher as we make our way southeast. Vast armies of Japanese schoolchildren pass in the distinct uniforms of a myriad of schools. They wear bright hats to keep them herded. A flock of yellow-hatted six year olds here, a group a couple years older adorned in blue. No hats for the high school kids, who flirt and giggle and wear their uniforms a bit different from each other and pose for group pictures.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple opens above us. We climb stone steps, the temples and shrines framed in an ocean of trees, both evergreen and those just starting to turn autumn red.
¥300 each (a bit over $3), we enter the temple. Shoes off, hands clasped in prayer. Ring the bell, clap twice, then a deep bow. Light the incense, place it in the smoldering giant cauldron. Drop coins into the slotted boxes, especially ¥5 and ¥50 coins with the hole in the middle for good luck.
Along a walkway, we look back at the temple built on stilts. For centuries, hopeful samurai would throw themselves off in a test of strength and purity. The success rate was alarmingly low.
A cluster of temples beckon the faithful and their donations. Pray for love, relationships, health, business and safe travel.
We descend from the temple, unsure where to eat lunch. North, back through Yasaka Shrine, onto Shijo-Dori, a dozen people queue up on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. Clearly a good sign.
AliSun writes “Tyler-2” on the clipboard, the only Latin letters on the list. As the line moves slowly forward, the Taiwanese woman next to us tells us that this place is known for its rice, which you can see bubbling up around the lids on the eight cookers in the window.
We wait in anticipation as a party of two is spirited away behind a sliding door into a dark restaurant beyond. (to be continued…)