Kyoto, 8 August 1893

From Kobe to Osaka the Tokaido railway line to Tokyo is following the coast and then turns towards the interior in a North-western direction to Kyoto where we arrived at 1 o’clock in the night after with a considerable delay caused by the festive receptions. Here I entered a court carriage and rushed to Gosho, the Imperial Palace, followed by a long line of djinn rickshaws with my entourage. After a long drive through the straight streets that are laid out in a grid pattern. Disregarding the late hour, a packed crowd was lining the streets under and with lampions in our home colors.

The Imperial palace is surrounded by a garden and a high covered wall and makes an ugly impression which is not improved by the dark walls made out of wood from Hinoki, the Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the steeply sloping roofs covered with the bark of that tree. The rooms of the house assigned to us are decorated in a simple but tasteful way in the original Japanese art. We found here too sliding doors and the lightly colored mats. On the walls are artistic images on a golden background. A veranda encloses the building and leads directly into the garden where countless guardians of the law are fending off all potential dangers.

In consideration of the late hour we had gone to sleep I believed that I could escape out of the clutches of my entourage by leaving the palace early in the morning and visit the sights of Kyoto in an inconspicuous way. But my assumptions proved to be wrong as I had hardly been strolling half an hour through the city when the gentlemen of the Japanese entourage turned up, quite worried whether I would be angry about their delay.

My first visit was to the Catholic church, a friendly house of worship in Gothic style that has been built by a Japanese architect. French priests exercises with as much enthusiasm as the nuns nearby whose beneficial works have already borne fruits.

Kyoto, numbering 298.500 inhabitants, rose out of the fertile plain of the province Yamashiro — on of the five main provinces of Japan (Go-kinai) that provided the foundation of the empire and in which all Imperial residences were situated — between the rivers Kamo and Katsura. With the larger part on the right bank and the smaller one on the slopes of the wooded heights of the Higashiyama on the left bank of Kamogawa, at some distance also surrounded by wooded mountains in the North and West. Kyoto is well known for its scenic landscape, its regularity of the site and not the least by the cleanliness of its not especially wide streets.

In this city the blooming art industry was held in high esteem since ancient times, namely the silk, metal and ceramic industries. Honorable and very famous, Kyoto is the classic focus of the one thousand year old history of ancient Japan — the genie of the more recent history lies in Tokyo. In 794 the Mikado Kanmu, one of the most important princes of the country, changed his residence to the village of Uda by constructing a peace palace called Heian-kyo and thus set the foundations for the city of Kyoto whose name in Chinese language means „capital city“.

The year 1868 moved like so much else with an iron foot past Kyoto’s position — it was necessary to break with the great historical past and rooted traditions. The new ideas had to be given more favorable soil as a place of old memories. Thus the residence of the Mikado was moved to Tokyo and thus Kyoto’s hegemony was broken — the former city indicated the future, the latter the past of Japan. For a conservative Japanese, however, Kyoto is still, even though it has lost not only in political but also material relations in an unfavorable comparison with Tokyo, the center of history, of erudition and culture of Japan. And one other glory Kyoto has kept: It is the city of temples. In its surrounding area it is said that to be about 3000 temples. What is Rome for Catholics, Moscow for the Russians, Mecca for the Muslims, Kandy for the Buddhists, that is Kyoto for the Japanese even if a person might be a Buddhist or Shintoist.

Visiting all 3000 temples would be too much to ask so that we limited us to the most exceptional. We started with the main Buddhist temple of the Jodo sect called Chion-in, situated in the Eastern part of the city on a hill and looking similar to a fortress.

The Jodo sect whose priests strictly live celibate and abstain from eating meat proclaims that salvation is mainly due to observing pious customs and has been founded in 1173 by Honen Shonin and blossomed during the Tokugawa shogunate. An avenue bordered by cherry trees leads to the main entrance of the temple, a building two stories high that has been made out of heavy wood and has as original as elegant an architectural form. A steep stairs bordered by dark Japanese cedars leads to a great forecourt at whose end lies the main temple Hondo in a charming grove. In the forecourt stand multiple splendid bronze vessels out of which water is spilling, intended for the believers to clean their hands before entering the temple. For the same purpose apparently a number of obviously already used cloths are hanging there. The main building, a covered mighty hall of pillars is also built out of the universal material, wood, and thus has repeatedly become a victim of the flames. The last time in 1633, after which it had been rebuilt in its current form.

We had to take off our shoes and entered the room accessible to any visitor where multiple bonzes were murmuring prayers and beat on gongs. But their curiosity seemed to be greater than their piety as the priests looked at us and lost their rhythm of ringing bells. Sannomiya, who had been a temple priest in his younger days, called his former colleagues and ordered them to guide us through all rooms of the temple. The bonzes whose shaved heads were covered with strange net-like caps wore a kind of stole slung around the neck and were noticeable by the splendor of their dresses even though they should have been joined together out of small patches according to the strict doctrines in order to show that the priests once walked in rags. The idol servants not only perform the prescribed prayers and ceremonies but also engage in a roaring trade with amulets and write passe-partouts to heaven for the believers in exchange for a commensurate tip.

In the main temple itself, one of the largest of such buildings in Kyoto, rises a splendidly gilded shrine on a table-like alter contained within an area delimited by four pillars. The shrine contains the statue of the sect’s founder. It is usually only shown once a year during the commemoration ceremony about the founding of the doctrine. In my honor, they made an exception and I could take a look at the sanctuary for which a bonze opened the shrine by bowing down numerous times to his knees. The statue shows a small corpulent man with a smiling physiognomy who is comfortably ably resting on a pillow and in his external expression reminds more of a jovial dandy than a strict religious reformer. The altar that holds this sanctuary is notable for its splendid lacquer and bronze works that produce a rare artistic effect by their harmonious blend. The surrounding wooden pillars are richly gilded,  their capitals and the freezes and ceiling fields are decorated with artistic carvings, fantastic animals and all kinds of symbols.

In front of the facing pillars rise mighty bronze vases, carrying metal lotus flowers, that reach up to nearly half the temple. Numerous lamps, incense burners and bronze displays form a peculiar valuable decoration and show all kinds of thinkable variations in terms of their sizes as besides the lamps there are other metal objects multiple meters high as well as objects in the most minimal dimensions such as lamps that barely manage to hold a miniature flame. Whatever we look at is contained in the most noble forms and shows the noble sensitive taste of the artists that created these master works.

On the side of the main altars stands the altar of Buddha, a peculiarity that is connected with the fact that the temple had been dedicated to the sect’s founder. In multiple gilded shrines lay tablets on small pedestals to commemorate various persons for their pious contributions and dedications to the temple. These tablets of which there was a considerable number gave in their formation the impression of the model of a cemetery.

The main temple is followed by a number of buildings of all kinds and various purposes, thus a conference hall and a library that contains a collection of all Buddhist prescriptions and multiple Buddha altars that each carry a richly gilded statue that represent the god with a halo sitting under or on an opened lotus flower. The close environment of the altars show signs of the frequent visits of the believers as the gilding is often enough rubbed off in some places which can easily be explained that the pious pilgrims who desire the ease from bodily pain or the end of an infirmity from the divine power by brushing the affected body part against the respective part of the statue — a form of activity of religious conviction that leaves nothing to be desired in its drastic comic relief.

A further building next to the temple is the palace built by the shogun Iyemizu, who ruled from 1623 to 1651 and had been conspicuous by his activity. That palace contains a real labyrinth of rooms that in earlier times were intended in part for the Mikado in part for his Imperial prince acting in his capacity as high priest but now serves as a residence for the bonzes or are unoccupied. These rooms are exceptional by their paintings that cover the moving walls. We saw here old very famous works by important masters whose impressions of all kinds of animals and plants and activities of daily life have entered them into an eternal commemoration. Some of these rooms show admirable images of spruce, bamboo and peach trees, chrysanthemums, willows and winter landscapes etc. An especially well reputed image shows a cat that seems to turn its head always towards the spectator irrespective of the position of the spectator in the room. Furthermore an image of a spruce and that of a sparrow whose realism is characterized by an anecdote that the painted trees have sweated resin but the sparrow had started to fly just having been finished. In view of these artworks the gimmick of placing a board into the veranda floor that emits a sound reminding one of a tweeting bird when one steps on the board.

Below the front gallery of the temple a gilded withered umbrella is stuck into the woodwork that according to a myth had flown in ancient times out of the hands of a boy who had changed into the form of the god Inari and provided protection against fire. In this function the magic umbrella does not seem to have performed well given the repeated destruction of the temple buildings in fires. The believers use the umbrella to gain a view into the future. Who has a desire in his heart and wants to be informed about its fulfilment throws small balls made out of clay or chewed paper on the umbrella. If the projectiles stick, this is considered a good omen, as a blessing by the god asked in this strange way. Given the numerous bought requests to learn about the future that are attached to the woodwork and sully the room, the number of believers who have wishes and desire to know the future are very large indeed.

Inari is the harvest and rice god which Kitsune, the Japanese fox, has selected as his servant. The fox has been selected due to its cunning as a temple guard and has this function at the entrance of many temples, made out of various materials. Beside the fox, the crane and also the freshwater turtle are especially venerated and both as symbols of luck, the latter one also as a symbol for a long life and peaceful dotage, one of the seven felicities. Thus too the preference for the display of these animals in bronze, in porcelain or in lacquerware and also using such objects as birthday presents to express the desire of a long life for the recipient.

On a small hill between the trees stands the tower completed in 1618 that has a giant bell of over 3 m and a nearly as large diameter at the base and of a respective thickness. This bell had been cast in 1633 and has considerable quantities of gold added to improve the purity of its sound. A tree trunk fixed to the exterior of the tower serves as a ram-like bobbin.

In djinn rickshaws we drove through multiple clean and especially cute streets to the temple  Gion-jajira that lies close to the one just visited and is dedicated to the Shinto cult. This is very simple to detect even for a stranger by the gates already familiar from Mijajima. In general it its easier for foreigners to gain entrance into a Buddhist temple than a Shinto one but we did not have any troubles today. In the forecourt were numerous votive tablets covered with long sayings and lamps. In the interior rooms we found the mirror and the Gohei as a symbol, guarded by two grotesque figures, a unicorn and a tiger. In front of an alter stood on clean small tables food and drink offerings, mostly rice, fish and sake that the believers have given in large quantities and which are received by the priests as a welcome offering.

A stark test to our rickshaw runners was posed by the road ascending steeply through a row of small alleys in whose shops porcelain and namely puppets of all kind were sold that led to the Buddhist temple of Kijomitsu. This is very popular in Japan for being dedicated to the goddess of mercy called Kwan-on, who listening to the prayers of the humans may safe them out of calamities and in apparent symbols of this power is shown with multiple faces, 40 arms and a 1000 hands. The history of the foundation of this sanctuary is a myth and lost in ancient times. In any case the temple is said to be among the oldest buildings in Kyoto. Here too a row of steeply ascending steps leads to a path to the two story high gate.

A bit higher lies a pagoda of three stories that is distinguished by its richly carved ornaments ad takes up a dominant position. In its proximity are some smaller chapels. Approaching through a path of pillars upwards the visitor finally stands in front of the main temple itself that has a strange effect caused by its ornamented raw pillars. The not really comfortable ascent is much eased by the number of interesting objects that make us rest at any moment to look at them and admire them. Votive tablets, bronze vases in colossal dimensions, gorgeous fountains with artistically formed dragon figures etc. catch the attention and slow down the steps.

The main temple contains in a shrine a 1,5 m tall image of the sitting „Goddess of Mercy with 1000 Hands“, also called Kwan-on, at whose sides are a row of figures of gods. The shrine is only opened every 33 years so that the people are granted viewing the the image of mercy. The decoration of the altar is a wild mix of living plants, artificial flowers, vases, candleholders, incense burners and offering vessels. The believers can work into motion large bells  with intertwined white-red ropes and thus assure consideration from the goddess for especially important pleas. Eternal lights are burning in the temple that is visited day and night by believers seeking mercy and aid.

On the frontside of the temple is a wooden platform called Butai, that is a dancing scene, with two wings for the orchestra, built apparently for special ceremonies on important holy days. A hall connected to this platform is filled with votive images that contain in part very interesting representations of events and actions n which the goddess has helped the donor. Besides the presence of symbols of various kinds such as the holy temple horses in all kinds of potential poses and gaits, one can see human fates in a colorful alternation, important events next to minor ones, heated cavalry battles and fights with giants and monsters next to the discomforts of daily life are preserved for eternity —  all in commemoration of the goddess with her thousand hands who had provided help.

The strange impression that the total site of the temple and the local situation makes on the spectator is still increased by the fact that the hill that carries the main temple is separated by a gorge from another sanctuary also dedicated to the goddess Kwan-on.

This building stands on poles rises above the hill and offers a splendid view of Kyoto and its picturesque surroundings for visitors from the veranda. Countless votive images provide here too testimony about the goddess‘ helping power whose wooden bust has been worn away by the frequent touches from the body parts of the believers in need. Among the votive images the representation of a steam boat deserves to be mentioned which is just experiencing the explosion of its boiler. A number of people on the ship, however, are saved from the impending drowning by the majestic goddess in the clouds.

From the platform of the veranda, fanatics jumped not rarely down over the rocks into a depth of 30 m holding but an opened umbrella in their hands to test whether the eternal protection of heaven was theirs which would be shown by the audacious jumpers surviving the fall intact while broken bones were seen as a quite sensitive refusal of divine protection. Often the dangerous jump was made to get a judgement of god. Killing oneself to enter into the nirvana close to the temple suggests itself. Finally the newly organized police had a lattice built around the platform and thus terminated the various aspirations of the jumpers.

Another smaller temple seems to be dedicated to a goddess for her effectiveness in protecting children. Here are found all kinds of votive images and other objects that are related to such protection of youth by the goddess, thus lattices that prevent children from falling down and small clay Buddha statues equipped with red bibs tied around the neck similar in the way one uses them to prevent kids to soil their clothes during a meal.

The number of visits today was concluded with one to the temple of the Buddhist Shin or Ikko sect that had been founded by Shinran, a descendant of an ancient noble family, in the year 1213 and is said to have over 10.000 temples in the country and said to distinguish itself by a certain level of rationality in its teachings as well as the purity of the behavior of its adherents. The belief in Buddha, noble thoughts and acts are the main demands for the believer whereas the celibacy, penitence and all kinds of asceticism or monastic life etc. are repudiated. Especially remarkable is that the founder of the sect has introduced the local language into the rituals and that the priesthood is inherited as it is among the Shintoists. The sect which intends a reform of Buddhist beliefs by the re-foundation of its original purity and is eager to teach its adherents also in the European sciences has not only in Kyoto but in every larger city two temples. Nishi (West) and Higashi (East) honganji.

The former, built in 1591 or 1592, is remarkable by its important dimensions as well as the richness of its decorations and the ornaments which are apparently connected with the cult of the especially splendid decoration by the sect. What gorgeous trunks have been used here as pillars and in the woodwork! What luxurious and still noble ornaments provide such true artistic enjoyment! The main entrance is covered with splendid carvings that represent flowers and leaves of chrysanthemums. Similar decorations are found on the friezes and extends up into the woodwork of the ceiling.

One of the most famous woodcutters of the country who could only use his left arm is said to have enlivened the rigid wood by those master works. A mighty tree growing in the temple courtyard is said to have the power to protect the temple from fire. The interior room, and namely both the nave and the two side chapels, richly light up thanks to the gilded areas on the walls and also the pillars when light enters from the veranda. To the right and left are chapel-like rooms that contain almost two hundred year old Kakemonos with golden letters on a dark-blue background proclaiming the god and furthermore the portraits of important believers of the sect.

The shrine of a height of about 60 cm encloses a statue showing the sect’s founder in a sitting position and is covered with gilded and painted flower ornaments while the altar on its front side is divided into individual fields with flowers and birds that are in contrast to the gilded background. In front of the image of the founder hangs a frame that holds the name of the currently ruling Mikado.

In an almost endless row of hall-like rooms of other buildings belonging to the temple, especially the government rooms we could admire gorgeous stitchings and paintings that covered the movable walls. Here there are all kinds of trees and bushes, there  chrysanthemums, then again geese and peacocks that have inspired and served the artists as models of living and natural beings. All these master works that are able to improve the understanding of the ancient Japanese art in a much different way than the goods that reach Europe are painted on long paper rolls that first lay horizontally in front of the artist and only after the completion are mounted on the walls. In general there are very few paintings from ancient Japan that are painted directly on vertical areas.

Through a labyrinth-like garden I was led to the home of the high priest who received us in a purple dress similar to those used by the Catholic bishops. This religious official is one of the highest religious dignitaries of Japan, a consequence of the respect awarded to the the sect as well as the circumstance that the Niji-hongwanji in Kyoto is seen as the main temple of the sect and its priests provide leadership in matters for the religious community in the whole country.

In 1876 the now ruling Mikado has awarded the title of Kenshin-daishi, that is Great Master, to the founder of the Shin doctrine who died 600 years ago which was a high honor and a recognition for the direction into which the reforming spirit of this Buddhist sect is moving. After the dignified leader of the Shin had offered us snow-like shaped fruit ice as well as very heavily sweetened treats that I could only force down with great effort, we drove to our residence in a djinn rickshaw column that had become all the longer as the assigned dignitaries and policemen were joined by a considerable number of reporters who were the complete equal of their European colleagues as far as their zealousness to their profession was concerned.

The afternoon was devoted to shopping for which Kyoto offers great opportunities. However the prices in the larger and better known shops are already set for trading with foreigners that I mostly avoided those progressive shops that carried the sign „Curio Shop“ and directed my steps to trading shops in the side alleys where I found also beautiful objects but at considerably less expensive prices as it the most prominent shops.

The regular layout of the streets in endless long lines from South to North and in a shorter extent from East to West makes the orientation much easier which is all the more helpful as we had to cover considerable distances between one shop and the next. As an aside, the distances in the city in Kyoto are calculated from the point of the Sanjo bridge built by the Taiko-sama. Everywhere one notices the cleanliness in the public areas as well as the fact that in Kyoto the sprinkling of the streets in front of the houses works much better than this is the case at home where it is the duty of the caretakers with their perennial bad moods.

During the drive I saw also a small factory in which the very common and quite pretty porcelain wares are produced in a process that is still not much removed from the artisanal method. The easier tasks are done by boys and women, the more difficult ones by men. In general the fabrication process, as far as the process and the tools used for it are concerned, looks still primitive.

Still the production speed achieved in part by the large division of labor is astonishing. As the form is quickly created on the potter’s wheel, then dried for a short time and afterwards painted. For the latter purpose a foreman sketches the outline of the figure or other decoration on the object itself which then wanders from hand to hand that add each some colors or some brush strokes until the artwork is ready to go into the oven for the final burning.

The location of the earthenware and porcelain industry is on the left bank of the Kamo-gawa in the quarter of Kiyomizu  which we had already crossed on our way to the visit to the temple of the same name. Here they produce and sell primarily goods for the home market, but for some years there exists also a production dedicated to foreign taste and export which has increased considerably since 1868. That the porcelain industry is not native in Japan but the permanent success of the expedition in which Taiko-sama set out to conquer Korea and China can be assumed as correct. The daimyos of Satsuma, Hisen, Choshu and multiple other brought home artisans from Korea who became the founders of the Japanese pottery industry.

In the evening we visited one of the largest tea houses in which female dancers put their art on display. But I could not applaud their choreographic skills nor their singing to the accompanying instruments. The allure for novelties which both in tea houses and the productions of dancers and singers performed in them at first exert is likely to certainly catch the interest to a high degree. Still I can not share the delight of the Europeans for these establishments and about the artistic skills of the puppet-like beauties.


  • Location: Kyoto, Japan
  • ANNO – on 08.08.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera „Der Troubadour“.

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