Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kyoto's 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

It took me more than three years but I finally managed to complete visiting all of Kyoto's 
17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Save for one, all are temples (identified by the suffix -in, -dera or -ji) or Shinto shrines
(identified by the suffix -jinja).   All are easy to get to and most are within the city limits,
accessible by bus, subway  or train.
The easy way to take the bus is to go to Kyoto Station where you can find bus stops marked in english for the most popular tourist destinations.
And dear reader, I googled so you wouldn't have to and have included bus, train and subway information in this post.


Here is a map that I found in the Welcome to Kyoto web page.  (
that shows 16 of the 17 sites.   Enryaku-ji in Mt. Hiei is  the only one that is not shown as it is in
the northeast part of Kyoto, almost at the border of the prefecture.

1. Kiyomizu-dera

Kyoto has many mountains and on top of one of them is the temple Kiyomizu-dera.  It is most famous
for the wooden balcony that juts out from the main hall, giving you an astonishing view of Kyoto.
From this balcony,  you will see masses of cherry blossoms during spring and red maple leaves during fall.  Don't miss a stroll through the picturesque streets of Ninen-zaka  and Sannen-zaka 
after your visit to the temple.
To get to Kiyomizu-dera, take city bus #100 or 206 in front of Kyoto Station and get off at Gojo-zaka  or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. 

2. Ryoan-ji

This has to be the most photographed and famous karesansui or "dry landscape" garden not just
in Kyoto but perhaps all of Japan.  This peaceful and serene Zen temple with its rock garden is conducive to meditation, as long as you visit very early, before the tourist buses arrive.
I suggest you visit Ryoan-ji together with Kinkaku-ji as the two World Heritage sites are just a 20 minute stroll away from each other.

3. Kinkaku-ji

Tourist guides say that Kinkaku-ji, also called the Golden Pavilion is one of the " Big 3" 
must-sees in Kyoto.  Painted with rich gold leaf, it sits in the middle of a pond,  its mirror image
on the still green water,  burning its image on your mind's eye.
To get to Kinkaku-ji, take bus #59, 100 or 205 from Kyoto Station for the Kinkakuji-michi bus stop.

4. Tenryu-ji

Tenryu-ji is a Zen temple in Arashiyama.  Most of the temple's buildings from the 1300s have 
been rebuilt because of fire, earthquakes and other calamities but its gorgeous garden featuring 
all the beautiful elements of the traditional Japanese landscape garden has survived in all its 
quiet elegance.
To visit Tenryu-ji, take the JR Sagano Line and get off at  Saga - Arashiyama station.  The temple
is a ten minute walk away.  While you're in the area,  take a walk through Arashiyama's famous 
bamboo forest,  which is just behind the temple.

5. Ginkaku-ji

Lush greenery and gardens surround the simple but splendid wooden pavilion of Ginkaku-ji 
also called the Silver Pavilion.  Located in the hills of Higashiyama,  you can catch a glimpse
of the city below when you climb up the winding wooded path.  A visit to Ginkaku-ji is best
paired with a leisurely meander along the Philosopher's Path, one of Kyoto's prettiest walking
areas. Take  bus # 5, 17 or 100 to Ginkaku-ji,  and the temple is a 5 minute walk from
Ginkakuji-mae bus stop.

6. Nishi Hongwan-ji

There are two temples beside each other called the Hongwan-ji -- Nishi and Higashi.
The main attractions are the immense wooden buildings, the Goei-do and the Amida-do.
Both temples are just a few minutes walk from Kyoto Station.  From the station's front entrance, facing Kyoto Tower, just walk straight through to Karasuma-dori and turn left at Shichijo.

7. To-ji

This Shingon temple has deep connections to my favourite Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi who
used to be the temple's abbot.  The towering five story wooden pagoda is the tallest in Japan and
can be seen from various areas of Kyoto.
To-ji also hosts a monthly flea market on the 21st (the day of the saint's birthday) where I find all sorts of irresistible stuff  (or "dust gatherers" as my husband calls them).  
From Kyoto Station, To-ji is a leisurely 30 minute walk (2 kilometres) or a quick 10 minute  ride on bus #202, 207 or 208. You will get off right at the temple entrance. 

8. Ninna-ji

This Shingon temple was founded in the ninth century by a Japanese emperor who later abdicated to become a monk and then went on to become Ninna-ji's abbot.  Talk about a 
career shift!
Ninna-ji is popular during sakura season because of its late blooming omuro sakura.  
A view of the temple's pagoda framed by cherry blossoms is a sight not to be missed.
Ninna-ji is accessible via bus #59 (which also passes through Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji)

9. Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei

The only world heritage site that is quite a distance from the city,  the temple complex of 
Enryaku-ji is located on Mt. Hiei, almost at the northeastern border of Kyoto prefecture.
Temple buildings are spread over the mountain with the main buildings located in the Todo area.
Be ready for steep climbs and long walks. 
We got lost on the way to Enryaku-ji so make sure you get on the right train.  The JR Kosei Line 
will take you to the Hieizan/Sakamoto station where you take a bus to go to the cable car that will take you up the mountain.
To go back to Kyoto, take the bus for a slightly longer but no-transfers-trip.

10. Kamigamo jinja 

Kyoto's oldest shrine is near the banks of the Kamogawa.  The entrance is marked by a huge torii which leads the visitor through a surprisingly wide expanse of lawn.  The clear and shallow
Omonoi stream flows serenely through the shrine grounds.
Bus #4 from Kyoto Station will drop you across at Kamigamojinja-mae and from there, you cross the bridge over the Kamogawa to get to the shrine.

11. Shimogamo jinja

Shimogamo-jinja and Kamigamo-jinja are known as the  Kamo shrines because of their proximity
to the Kamogawa or the Kamo River.  It is therefore convenient and efficient to visit both on the
same day.  The Shimogamo abuts an ancient forest right within the city.  It's an ideal place for a
quiet and peaceful walk.
To get to Shimogamo from Kamigamo-jinja, wait outside the shrine at the bus stop for bus #4 and
get off at Shimogamojinja-mae bus stop. 

12. Byodo-in

This magnificent  temple is depicted on the ubiquitous 10 yen coin. Gorgeous Phoenix Hall houses
a golden statue of Amida Buddha.  There is also a gem of a modern underground museum where
the temple's treasures are on display.
Byodo-in is located in Uji, a 15 minute ride away from Kyoto Station via the Rapid Express of the JR Nara Line.

13. Nijojo

Among Kyoto's 17 world heritage sites, only Tokugawa Ieyasu's castle is neither a temple nor a
shrine.   Aside from the very well maintained palace building (with its squeaking "nightingale
floors")  there is a lovely traditional garden and a moat that thoroughly surrounds the palace walls.  During sakura season,  Nijojo is a prime tourist destination for its shidare sakura or weeping cherry blossom trees.
To get to Nijojo, take the Tozai subway line and get off at Nijojo-mae station. 

14. Daigo-ji

The entrance to Daigo-ji is marked by masses of sakura trees which makes it a very popular springtime destination.  The temple grounds sprawl over an entire mountain -- with buildings
on the lower and on the upper parts.  Daigo-ji's very ancient wooden pagoda is Kyoto's oldest building and its main hall or Kondo is a National Treasure.
Like Nijojo, Daigo-ji is on the Tozai subway line. Get off at Daigo Station.

15. Kozan-ji

While many of the shrines and temples are located near or on mountains themselves, to my mind Kozan-ji is the perfect example of a mountain temple.  It exudes a primordial, peaceful air and seemingly blends in with the centuries old forest of Mount Takao. 
Interesting bit of trivia ... Kozan-ji is a "sister temple" of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi,
reason enough to go out of your way and visit this place.
Kozan-ji is best accessed by JR Bus bound for Takao. Get off at the Toganoo bus stop, closest to
the temple entrance. It takes an hour from Kyoto Station to Kozan-ji by bus.

16. Saiho-ji  (Koke-dera)

This unique and certainly most expansive moss garden in Kyoto requires reservations 
made well ahead of your planned visit.   Visitors to the temple and garden are limited to just 100
per day so you are assured of a quiet and contemplative stroll through one of the most remarkable Japanese gardens you will ever see.
You can take bus #73 or 83 from Kyoto Station to Kokedera Suzumushidera bus stop. In normal traffic conditions, the trip takes almost an hour.

17. Ujigami-jinja

And finally, I saved the oldest for last.  The Honden of Ujigami-jinja is recognised as the oldest existing example of Heian type shrine architecture.  The shrine is simple, unostentatious and set
in a surprisingly small area -- many have remarked that this ancient shrine does not seem like a
world heritage site.
Ujigami-jinja is located in Uji, a fifteen minute train ride out of Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line.
It is across the Ujigawa from Byodo-in and a visit to both world heritage sites plus a stroll around pleasant and picture-pretty Uji is a good way to spend a day out of Kyoto.

Just to wrap up this extraordinary experience, please indulge my attempt at a haiku --

Seventeen moments
Open the mind to reflect
Buddha's gifts of grace

And as they say in Nihongo ...

Owari (the end).

NB My favourites among these 17 sites are Byodo-in (loveliest),  Ryoan-ji (most thought provoking) and Kozan-ji (most austere).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Finishing my Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Sites Bucket List #17 Ujigami jinja

A few days before the year ended,  one of my "quests" ended too.   I was able to accomplish my goal of visiting all 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. It took me more than three years but I finally did it ... and yes, it was all worth it.

Ujigami jinja,  the last remaining site that I needed to visit is located in Uji,  11 kilometres
or twenty minutes away from Kyoto Station via the Rapid express.  Uji is also home to 
Byodo-in, another UNESCO World Heritage site that I had visited last year.

From the train station,  it's a pleasant 15 minute stroll to Uji-bashi, the bridge that spans the
Uji-gawa.  At the foot of the bridge is a statue of Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote what many
say is the world's first ever novel,  The Tale of the Genji.
I find it fascinating that the first ever novelist was a woman, and an Asian at that.
Uji is the setting for much of the last part of the novel so you will see many references to
The Genji as you walk around the town.

A wooden marker by the bridge talks about Uji-bashi's history.  This is one of the oldest bridges in Japan. It was originally built in the 600s but because of floods, earthquakes, fires and other calamities, it has been re-built many times.  It's too bad that the bridge is undergoing repairs this time so I was not able to take a nice photo.

Wooden handrails line the sides of the bridge.  Uji-bashi links the north and south sides of Uji 
and is an important thoroughfare in town.  Our destination for today is located on the north side of the river. 

I see familiar looking ornaments on the handrails.  These are called giboshi and can be seen
only in historical and culturally important structures like shrines, temples and bridges. 

To get to Ujigami jinja you walk through another shrine called the Uji jinja.  
You might be misled into thinking you have reached your destination because of the name and the impressive red torii that marks the long and rather grand entrance.  But, this is a different place altogether.

There is signboard in English that will tell you where to go. Ujigami jinja is further on.

It's a short walk along a quiet and empty street -- everyone must be busy preparing for oshogatsu or new year.  Another large red torii is up ahead and this time, this is indeed the entrance to Ujigami jinja.

Time to stop and take a photo of this "momentous" (to me, at least) occasion.
This is Meiko san, my dear best friend who lives in Kyoto.  I am grateful that despite her busy schedule, she makes time to see me.  Her friendship and time are generously shared and a day spent with her is always a happy and enriching experience.

The UNESCO World Heritage site marker is placed by the shrine entrance.
You can see from the map that the shrine occupies a rather small area.  Ujigami jinja sits right at the foot  of Mount Mitaku. 

This is the haiden or worship hall where shrine visitors can enter and pray to the deity.  
This haiden is the oldest existing example of this type of shrine building in Japan.  If I did not know about its world heritage status,  I would not think that this simple and rather plain wooden structure would be so culturally and historically significant.

On either side of the haiden are perfect cones of sand used in the shrine's purification rituals.  These remind me of the ones that I  saw at the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto, also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  
The cones are enclosed with rice straw ropes called shimenawa from which shide or zigzag cut paper are hung.  The shimenawa and shide designate sacred areas and are also meant to ward off  evil spirits and demons.

Ujigami jinja is blessed with a free flowing spring which Meiko san told me is the shrine's temizuya or purification area.
You enter the small shed to perform misogi or the traditional purification ritual.
First, scoop the water using the ladle conveniently provided. Wash your left hand first,
then your right hand then rinse your mouth.  The water is crystal clear and bitingly cold.
Misogi is a ritual I have performed many times but this is the first time I have done it while standing directly over the water source itself.  I am careful not to slide on the slippery stone steps and fall into the spring.

Behind the haiden is the Kasuga Jinja Honden built a few hundred years after. 
This small shrine building is also designated as an Important Cultural Property.

And here is Ujigami jinja's honden or main hall.  Along with the haiden,  this honden is the oldest example of this type of architecture, dating back to the Heian period.  These two buildings are what have earned the shrine its  World Heritage Site status.
Unlike the haiden, visitors are never allowed to enter the honden, as this is where the deity 
is enshrined and is the most sacred and holy place in the shrine.  Visitors can climb all the way to the top of the short stone steps and pray to the deity but that is as far as one can go.
As you can see from the photo, the honden is not very big and it is almost backed up all the 
way to the edge of Mount Mitaku -- there is nothing but trees and woods behind it. 

In Shinto, the deity is not a saint or a figure like Buddha.  Shinto deities are called kami 
and are parts of nature such as wind, sun, trees, mountains ... and yes, rocks and stones.
Near the honden, we found this shimenawa enclosed rock with many small pebbles
piled up on top.
It brought to mind the "stones of sorrow" that pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago
would place on the roadside cruceiros or crosses.   They were meant to symbolise a burden
or problem and by "leaving" them behind,  it meant that you starting anew and leaving past heartaches behind.

I told Meiko san about the "stones of sorrow".   We decided to place our own little 
pebbles on the rock but instead of "stones of sorrow", we said we would call them "stones of remembrance".

Here is the pebble I placed on the rock (encircled in red)  -- more than a "stone of remembrance",  it signifies gratitude.  Apart from the many blessings in my life,  I am
thankful that I have accomplished my Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage sites bucket
list.  It also seems appropriate and noteworthy that my task ended here in Ujigami jinja,
in one of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Post # 400 - Tororo Soba at Koke-no-Chaya

Four hundred posts!  I can't believe that what started as a "digital" experiment has lasted this long (six years and counting).  Thank you to friends and relatives who read this blog (yes, all seven of you).  Blogging is the perfect way to remember places I have been to,  food I have enjoyed and experiences that have moved me.
This 400th post may be a bit ironic.  There is no pig or pork at all -- this is about an almost vegetarian noodle dish that I enjoyed during my recent trip to Kyoto.

Koke-no-chaya is a soba restaurant that has long been a familiar feature on the road going to the  Saiho-ji Temple, more popularly known as Koke-dera.  
Koke means moss and chaya is a resting place or a tea house where travellers could relax and take a snack or a meal.
From the looks of this black and white photo,  Koke-no-chaya has been around for quite a number of years. 

I love that the restaurant still looks very much like the the original in the photo above.  The wooden sign on top of the doorway is the very same one in the photo.  One notable change perhaps would be the giant ice cream cone that stands on one corner.  Koke-no-chaya must 
sell a lot of soft serve matcha (green tea) ice cream  during the hot summer months.

A menu board in front of the restaurant shows the various soba dishes available, interspersed with photos of its famous neighbours, the temples Saiho-ji, or Koke-dera, Jizo-in and Kegon-ji.

Right outside the restaurant are some low tables where diners can eat while viewing the 
rather unruly but utterly charming pocket garden.  Since it's winter time there are no takers, 
not in this chilly 5C weather.

The interiors are appealing and homey, fusing both old and new.  Photos and notes from famous personalities are framed on the walls, old baskets hang from the aged wooden rafters and a cast iron tea kettle is suspended over an electric fire.  
Portable heaters provide much needed warmth and there are several photo albums filled with magazine and newspaper articles about Koke-no-chaya. 

Here's a multi tasking heater that also serves as a warmer for the teapot.

We are served hot mugicha or roasted barley tea, poured into squat round bowls.  Each sip warms me all the way down to my toes.

Koke-no-chaya is a soba restaurant -- the buckwheat noodles are handmade right in the restaurant's kitchen.   You can have plain soba, hot or cold and a few other simple dishes.  
The cheerfully bustling okamisan (lady owner) who waits on all the tables encourages us to order their specialty, tororo soba and naturally, we are happy to oblige.

As we wait for our orders, I peek into the kitchen at the back.  Koke-no-chaya is not exactly a small restaurant,  I would peg it at a 30 seater so I am quite impressed when I see that 
aside from the okamisan (who is already of a "certain age") there are only two other people helping her run the entire place.  
There is the white-haired chef (who I presume is her husband) and a lady who washes the dishes.   The restaurant runs smoothly --  and the okamisan is even able to keep up a running conversation with her guests as she goes to and from the kitchen carrying everyone's orders.

And this is Koke-no-chaya's pi├Ęce de resistance, its tokubetsu-na ippin or house special.  
Tororo soba is a traditional way to eat buckwheat noodles.  Tororo is grated, almost pureed sticky mountain yam that is placed on top of a bowl of hot or cold soba noodles.   
My steaming hot bowl of soba comes with a raw egg placed right in the middle of the grated yam.   A sprinkling of dried seaweed flakes completes Koke-no-chaya's tororo soba.
The okamisan told us that the dark green seaweed is evocative of Koke-dera's moss garden that 
we would soon visit after our lunch.

NB This dish is also known as tsukimi tororo soba or moon watching soba, an aptly descriptive name.  

After mixing everything together -- tororo, raw egg,  dashi broth and soba, we enjoy our 
quick, delicious and filling lunch.

Bowls of soba finished, we head off for our 1:00 p.m. appointment to view the moss garden at Koke-dera.    Koke-no-chaya certainly lived up to its name as a place where travellers can take their ease, relax and have a good meal.
The okamisan accompanies us out the door and stands by the side of the road waving good bye. 
My tummy is warm with the tororo soba but my heart is even warmer with her kind and gracious farewell. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

My UNESCO World Heritage Sites Bucket List #16 Saiho-ji aka Kokedera, the Moss Temple

Japanese gardens are amazing, lovely places.  There are certain features that are traditionally present like stones and rocks, water, plants and trees, gravel and sand.  Put together under the gardener's expert mastery,  these elements become ponds, mountains, hills, forests... entire landscapes.  
A Japanese garden is a microcosm of nature.

After our morning in Kozan-ji in the Takao mountain area, we drove to the foothills of Arashiyama where we had a 1:00 p.m. appointment at Saiho-ji Temple.  This is the road leading to the entrance.  
A very clean and clear creek runs alongside it, serving as a natural moat that separates the temple from the road. 

The entrance to Saiho-ji is marked by this sign.  It is the only one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto that requires prior reservations.  
Since visitors are limited to 100 a day, it is best to reserve a few weeks in advance and to state alternate dates just in case the temple is full on your desired date.  
I had asked Chieko san to secure the reservations for us more than a month prior to our trip. 
But because it is late December and close to the New Year,  there are less than 100 guests on the day we visit although  I imagine that reservations would be harder to come by during peak seasons such as spring or autumn.

This is the main hall or the Hondo.  Before touring the gardens, everyone is asked to take part in 
the  kito or sutra chanting led by the temple's priests.  Again, this is different from other UNESCO World Heritage sites where the practice is not de rigueur for visitors
Putting on slippers and leaving our shoes outside, we entered and took our places on the floor. 
I find it very difficult to sit lotus style and had to shift my weight several times during the fifteen minute sutra chanting,  silently willing my bones not to creak.  
Thank goodness we were not asked to do shakyo or sutra copying as that would have meant a longer time sitting on the floor.  But we were all  given small wooden plaques to write prayer requests on.  
These wooden plaques would be burned later on during the goma or fire ritual.   Our collective prayers and petitions would float up in smoke to heaven.

After the kito is performed, we return our slippers, retrieve our shoes and head out for the garden.   See how neat the Japanese are.  Everyone has lined up the slippers in an orderly way in front of the hall, ready for tomorrow's guests.

Saiho-ji's main draw is its fabulous moss garden, perhaps the most famous moss garden in Japan.  
It is also popularly called Koke-dera,  which literally means "moss temple".  But even before I 
have set foot in the moss garden, this beautifully landscaped area in front of the main hall holds 
my attention.

February or late winter is when plum trees blossom in Kyoto.  This one fine specimen seemed to be sprouting buds in late December.  Standing alone amidst evergreen perennials,  it must be a show stopper when the flowers are in full bloom.

Moss covered earth lines the entry to the moss garden, which lies just beyond the hedges. 
Saiho-ji was established  in the 700s and later restored by the famous Zen monk and noted garden designer,  Muso Soseki in the 1300s.   While he was responsible for other temple gardens like the one in Tenryu-ji  (another UNESCO World Heritage site) it is Koke-dera that is acknowledged as his masterpiece.

The garden is beautifully laid out over several hectares, most of it around a still pond. 
Moss grows everywhere -- between the stones on the path,  on the ground,  between the trees and 
on the trees.  
I can understand why the temple allows only one hundred visitors a day and why 
they charge such a high entrance fee. (3,000 yen compared to 500 yen other temples normally charge).    
Hundreds of visitors mindlessly tramping about (and yes, taking selfies)  would definitely cause damage to the garden.  

Soseki san has masterfully fused all  elements -- creating an ever changing vista. 
I may be restricted to walking along on just the narrow pathway,  but I can fully appreciate the expansiveness of his design.

A small tea house with a simple wooden balcony is strategically placed by the centre of the garden.  Built in the 1500s I can imagine the temple's esteemed guests sitting here, sipping their tea and quietly enjoying their privileged view of Soseki san's moss garden.

And if you happened to be sitting on the tea house, this would be your view.  Today everything is monochromatic, in various shades of green but during fall, the maple and other deciduous trees 
would be in their full red, yellow and orange regalia.

A small island in the middle of the pond can be reached by a wood and stone bridge almost completely overrun by moss.  An island is an integral part of most Japanese ponds and are used to add meaning and symbolism to the garden.

The moss garden has so many facets.  Small things are hidden from view which when revealed 
added another meaning or layer to what I felt the garden was trying to say to me.
As I walked around,  I remembered another favourite Zen garden, the kare-sansui or dry garden 
of Ryoanji.  I realised that both are ideal places for contemplation.  The main difference is,  in 
Ryoan-ji,  you sit in one spot and meditate while in Saiho-ji,  you can meander, walk and stroll in solitary reflection.

While Saiho-ji is most renowned for its moss, Soseki san had planned a traditional garden using 
the main elements of water, stones, rocks and plants.  Through the centuries, because of the wet 
and humid weather, over one hundred varieties of moss slowly flourished and grew all over the garden.  In my mind, Soseki-san may have designed Koke-dera's garden  but Mother Nature,  
ichiban Gardener,  made it what it is today.

Even Soseki-san's carefully chosen rocks and stones are covered with different kinds of moss.  Chieko san mentioned that some gardeners have actually proposed removing the moss from 
Koke-dera so that the true art and beauty of Soseki-san's garden could be exposed.  
They believe that the garden would be even more magnificent if they could see Soseki san's 
original concept and design. However, Chieko san did say she believed nothing would come out 
of that proposal.  

I would definitely not support that idea.  I love how the moss creeps along, creating different textures and shapes on the ground.  Little globes of green velvet are strewn about and while you may think that moss grows anywhere and everywhere, they are quite hard to cultivate and "tame".

A small wooden gate marks the end of the moss garden.  Pass through this and your sins will be forgiven.

Stone and wood steps lead the visitor to the upper garden of Saiho-ji.

More moss covers the ground between ancient trees, their trunks coloured green by moss.

The upper garden is a dry garden or kare-sansui where large rocks have been purposefully placed 
so as to evoke certain scenes.

This part of Saiho-ji has a different ambience.  Rocks and stones are placed on varying levels and 
seem to go all the way up to the woods until I cannot determine where the forest begins or where 
the garden ends.   I could sit amidst these rocks for hours.

I wish I had that kind of time to spend in Saiho-ji.  We arrived just before 1 p.m. and before I knew it, it was  4 p.m. and the last few guests are being politely ushered out through the gates. 
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Saiho-ji or Koke-dera is unique and remarkable.   
I am thankful for this rare opportunity to visit the temple and experience its calm and tranquil heart.  
My time spent here was truly another gift of grace from Buddha.

NB Thank you to my husband Jay and son Gani for photos 2 and 3.  
To secure reservations for Saiho-ji, please note the instructions stated on photo 2.