Today is our last full day in Kyoto. We headed off first thing to Toji markets, just on the other side of Kyoto station from our hotel.
Toji Shrine was founded in 796 and has a five storey pagoda, large temple and is set in large grounds. The markets are a regular occurrence on the third Sunday of every month and celebrate the death of Kukai in 835. Kukai was a very important monk who instigated the construction of many of the buildings in the temple, including the five storied pagoda. The pagoda was actually the tallest building in Kyoto until the completion of Kyoto Tower in 1964.
The Navigator has to withdraw his comment about "house of prayer, den of thieves." It has been the practice of temples for many centuries to hold markets as means of bringing the community together and also raising funds to support the temple. Nonetheless, he is still undecided about fat-cat multinationals like Chanel using a temple to support a specific promotion.
The market was in full swing when we arrive and continued to get busier throughout the morning. The entire grounds were covered with colourful canopies selling everything from kimonos to handicrafts to second hand goods to bonsai. There were plenty of food stalls as well and we lost The Navbour when he stopped for a pancake. We accomplished our mission of buying a kimono and some Kokeshi dolls.
We could have easily spent all day at Toji but left before lunch to head to Kamigamo Shrine in the north of the city. The Navbour headed to the Kyoto Railway Museum.
A beauty of Kyoto is there is always a festival occurring somewhere in the city. The Citadines always does a good job of posting the major events of the month in the lift and through this list we discovered the Kasagake festival. We caught the subway to Kitayama Station and then walked for 30 minutes through a beautiful and quite affluent suburb. In front of one house was parked an Alfa, Porsche and what looked like some Italian supercar underneath a tarpaulin.
Kasagake is a form of Japanese mounted archery. Archer and horse charge down a narrow lane and the archer must stand to shoot at three wooden targets of approximately 30cm2 on the left side of the horse without stopping. Then they return in the opposite side to shoot at smaller targets (perhaps 15cm2) on the right and then the left side of the horse. Not only that, the archers are wearing traditional dress of deer skin, thick cloth and helmets tied on with rope.
The skill and the training of both horse and archer is extraordinary. The horses are trained to run in a straight line at a constant speed without the archer holding the reins. The archer must maintain his/her (there were two female archers) balance and manage to shoot at a target whilst moving.
Originally there were ten archers. The first round knocked out five and then the next round knocked out two. The remaining three archers then shoot at ceramic disks with a hole in the middle. The hole contains a square sheet of paper and if the archers can shoot the paper without breaking the ceramic disk then this is worth more points. Not only that, the archer has achieved the goal of shooting out the evil spirit.
It was fascinating and spectacular viewing. Not only that, we were blessed with clear and warm weather to watch the festival.
Afterwards we were looking at the horses and the archers as they packed up and one archer approached us.
"Did you enjoy the festival?" he asked in unaccented English.
"Absolutely," we said, a bit embarrassed we could not reply in conversational Japanese.
We followed up with “thank you” in Japanese (arigatou gozaimasu). We have managed to extend our vocabulary this trip but only just.
We spent some time looking through the grounds of the temple. Like Fushimi Inari, this shrine has a path up into the forested hill which is guarded with vermilion tori. The typhoon has caused significant damage here too. Most of the tori were broken by fallen trees and some trunks were still lying over the path. One tree was snapped in half as if it were a toothpick. The surrounding houses were so lucky the big trees fell away from the buildings.
In the evening we had a great dinner at another of the ticket vending machine restaurants in our street. Great value for money and dinner is presented to you within five minutes with miso soup, tofu and green tea served alongside your main course for under $10 Australian dollars.