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Temples & Shrines


Temple, in Japanese is tera, and Buddhist temples are often have the suffixes -tera, -dera, or -ji. Temples are associated with Buddhism, which traveled to Japan via China, in the late 6th century, bringing Chinese culture with it and greatly influencing Japanese life. Many scholars, monks, and artists went to China to study philosophy, art, music, and literature, eventually asserting great influence over Japan's culture and society. Temples have many styles according to their sect as well as when it was constructed. Sculptures and images of Buddha honoring its teachings and practice are enshrined in various halls of temple complexes. Some may have Pagodas, and other beautifully landscaped gardens. Temples are usually not for prayer but for meditation, and reflection. You will often hear the monks chanting and more often than not be able to smell incense burning. Temples are places where the family grave is located, and the Japanese visit to remember and pay respect to their ancestors with offerings of food, alcohol, and flowers. Buddhism's main occasion is Obon, which takes place during the summer in late July to the middle of August. Spirits return to earth and families welcome them back to their homes. In Kyoto, Obon is closed by the lighting of Daimonji, when five mountains around the city are set ablaze with different Chinese characters to guide these family spirits back to heaven.


Shrines are monuments dedicated to the Shinto religion, which is the native religion of Japan. Shintoism is highly animistic, as they regard kami, gods and spirits, to be imbued in natural objects, phenomena, and the universe itself. Shinto beliefs and ways of thinking are deeply embedded in the subconscious the Japanese people It has no binding set of dogma, nor primary diety. Rather, it is a collection of rituals and traditions meant to mediate the relations of human beings and kami. It seems that all Japanese consider themselves both Shinto and Buddhist by default. When Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the sixth century, the Buddha was accepted as another one of Shinto's many gods.Shinto shrines, (jinja) often have the suffixes -jinja, -jingu, or -gu. The biggest apparent distinguishing feature is the brightly painted reddish-orange torii gate at the entrance, although some torii are unpainted and made of wood, stone, metal, or concrete. In Kyoto, the most recognizable torii is at Heian-Jingu. Often, inside the complex, one will see a sacred tree with a shimenawa rope with white folded paper tied around it, which symbolizes the dwelling places of kami. Some kami have specialities in their blessings, such as health, good success, protection, and people go to certain shrines for specific prayers, most often for good luck with exams or a successful child-birth. Prayers are often conducted by pulling a rope attached to a bell, and clapping the hands in front of you twice, and bowing. Shrines offer omamori amulets for protection from all manner of forces, omikuji, a fortunetelling paper that is later tied to tree-branches, and ema, wooden tablets on which to record wishes and prayers. Shinto shrines are noted for their vibrant festivals, in which kami are thought to symbolically relocate to portable shrines called omikoshi, which are carried on the backs of several men parade down the streets of the neighborhood to bless the community.

Traditional arts


Geisha are traditional female entertainers accomplished in both the visual and performaing classical arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, paiting, dance, and playing of musical instruments. As geisha-in-training, maiko spend years practicing these arts, and refining her speech, mannerisms, and behaviors. Exclusive tea-houses and restaurants play host to wealthy patrons who can afford to spend an evening in the company of two or three geisha and maiko, who perform dances, play instruments, elicit ochaya asobi, (tea-house games), pour drinks, light cigarettes, and engage in charming banter.


Kyoto has five traditional hanamachi (Geisha districts/entertainment quarters):Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi-shinchi, Pontocho, Kamihichiken and Miyagawa-cho. These areas developed in the Edo-period the upper classes enjoyed food, music and dancing. Each spring and autumn, odori, (traditional dance) are performed by the geisha and maiko (geisha in training) of each quarter to celebrate of the coming of the seasons. Spring begins with the Miyako Odori in the Gion district and the Kyo Odori in Miyagawa-cho, followed by the Kitano Odori in Kamihichiken and the Kamogawa Odori in Ponto-cho. In the autumn, the Gion-higashi district performs Gion Odori.


Kabuki, is one of Japan's traditional forms of theatre, and developed in the Edo period (1600-1868). Kabuki combines highly stylized drama with music and dance. Aesthetically, the stage and its actors reflect the tastes of the merchant classes during its hey-day. Both male or female roles, are played by men in elaborate costumes and make-up. Kabuki features a unique stage design including mawari butai (revolving stage), seri (stage traps), and hana-michi (extended walkway)


Is a highly stylized and refined form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century during the Muromachi period (1333-1573)It would later influence other dramatic forms such as Kabuki and Butoh.. Noh is defined by its slow, spartan grace and the wearing of distinctive masks by its actors. The performance is accompanied by three or four traditional instruments ie. tsuzumi drum and shamisen and includes chorus of six or eight people. The stage is quite simple, and scenery is very sparse, giving props are highlighted to represent objects or actions. The performance is a combination of song, dialogue, music and dance. Both classical prose and poetry are used to portray a classical story-line. As with kabuki, noh may be hard to handle in its full format. The performances are very long, although they are broken up by the occasional kyogen sketches.

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