In the summer of 2017, two ladies from Germany engaged me to organize a guided tour to the former capital cities of Kyoto and Nara with focus on religion, especially Buddhism in Japan.
Their journey took place in May 2018 and was an unforgettable experience, for them as for me.
They discovered all the fascinating aspects of Japanese beliefs, especially the symbiotic relations between Buddhism and Shinto. But they also experienced the real everyday life and fell in love with the Japanese cuisine.
As for me, I deepened my knowledge of Japanese Buddhism and began to really understand the fascination of this philosophy. I knew already most of the temples, but saw them this time with different eyes, especially the gardens of the Zen temples. As an amateur photograph, in these gardens, I'm in heaven!
First, we stayed 9 days in Kyoto and its surroundings and went then to Nara for 5 more days. Alterning visits in the city and excursions in the countryside, we were able - most of the time - to avoid the crowd of mass tourism, now a real "plague" in Kyoto and Nara...
All "normal" tourists visit almost the same temples and shrines we also visited and after a while, for most of them, it looks all the same. I call it the temple overdose.
But for us, my customers and I, it was different. Each day, we visited temples of various schools of Buddhism. And if you look thoroughly, with the proper prior knowledge, there are really big differences in architecture, artefacts, atmosphere, etc. For me, it was like a revelation!
Besides the visits, my customers discovered everyday new delicacies of the Japanese gastronomy. One of them loved matcha (powered green tea) so much, that it was almost mandatory to make a "matcha break" between two temples! In the evening, we ate in wonderful restaurants and I was very fortunate to enjoy twice a kaiseki diner! Kaiseki is the top of Japanese cuisine, like a Michelin-star restaurant in France!
In the end, it was a hard trip, with very demanding customers, but they were delighted about their journey. That is what counts! I'm grateful for this opportunity to learn so much about Japanese religion and to enjoy such excellent food!
My highlights of the trip
Manpuku-ji: Head temple of the Obaku zen sect in Uji. A beautiful and serene place, apart from the normal tourist paths. There, we attended a mesmerizing ceremony. I'll soon post a video of it on Facebook!
Ohara & Sanzen-in: An atmospheric mountain village north of Kyoto, home of Sanzen-in, a temple of the Tendai school, with a gorgeous moss garden
Yoshino mountain and its Shugendo temples: Yoshino is Japan's most famous cherry blossom spot with over 30,000 trees. But it's also the holiness of Shugendo, a highly syncretic religion which incorporate many beliefs like Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism and Hinduism.
I love this place and plan to hike soon to Mount Omine, the top of the mountain range!