Small-Group Shinto and Buddhism Tour with Historian of Religion
- Gion district: Founded in medieval times to accommodate pilgrims to the Yasaka Shrine, this colorful Kyoto gem sets the stage for our three-hour walking tour with its old-style wooden buildings (machiya) and traditional tea houses (ochaya).
- Yasaka Shrine: Dating back to 656, this Shinto temple launches our discussion of the religion's basic principles. Learn about the spiritual deities known as kami, as well as Shinto's concepts of purity and impurity.
- Kiyomizu-dera: We turn to the tenets of Buddhism at this spectacular hilltop temple, founded in 788 and now part of a larger World Heritage Site. Gain special insights into how Buddhist temples are structured, and how the religion arrived from China and Central Asia.
- Kennin-ji: Admire the paintings, screen decorations, and classic gardens of Kyoto's oldest Zen temple, founded in 1202 by the monk said to have introduced this Buddhist sect (and tea drinking) to Japan – Eisai, buried on the temple grounds.
- More than a guide: Even by GoBe standards, your tour leader is special. Known officially as "docents" (from the Latin for teacher), these Ph.D. and M.A.-level experts in Japanese history and religion help you see the contrasts and parallels between Shintoism and Buddhism.
About This Kyoto Tour
According to an old saying, the Japanese are born Shinto but die Buddhist. (Some versions put "marry Christian" between the two.) That's not to say that most people undergo one or even two religious conversions in life. It's more that "religion" is a flexible concept in Japan – some scholars say the word doesn't even apply – and that, as a society, the Japanese weave their belief system from various spiritual strands. But there's no denying that the sturdiest threads come from Buddhism and Shintoism.
This tour takes to Kyoto's Gion district to follow those two threads to their source, analyzing how elements of both have been adapted into largely shared cultural traditions. The ritual of temizu, for example – the ritual hand washing conducted before entering a Shinto shrine. And the role of common folklore; Shintoism evolved over centuries from various native spiritual beliefs, and hints of those myths and legends survive in secular Japanese culture to this day.
We'll also look at the history and influence of Buddhism, an import from the Asian mainland. At Kiyomizu-dera, we'll discuss how the Buddhist tradition of charms and amulets, thought to influence fate, has become part of everyday life in Japan regardless of any specific religious or spiritual ties; at Kennin-Ji, you'll see the same universal acceptance of Zen gardens as part of the national identity.
Feel free to ask your docent where the "Born Shinto, die Buddhist" expression comes from; according to one theory, it's because Shinto funerals are prohibitively expensive
Please make your way to Lawson's General Store located under the covered arcade across the street from the Yasaka Shrine in Gion. The store is located on the corner of Shijo-dori and Higashi-Oji-dori. Your guide waits for you in front of the store.
Bring some local currency to pay for your admission to the temple directly.
In need of retail therapy after your tour? Your guide can advise you where to go in search of that "must have" souvenir to take home. Be sure to have some local currency and a backpack for all your great buys.
As in many cities, keep your wallet or purse secured and leave the bling behind.
Plan to walk for approximately 2 miles at a gentle pace. If your mobility is limited, this tour may be too challenging for you. This itinerary is not suitable for wheelchairs.
Cultural, Scenic, Walking Tour
Public transportation may be used from time to time. Have local currency available for tickets. Your tour may involve walking only.
Ph.D. or MA-level scholar guide
Tour Participation Requirements
This experience is rated moderate. Full participation may require extended periods of walking over even and uneven surfaces, steep terrain and/or water activity in a slight current. There may be steps, inclines, cobblestone surfaces, and extended periods of standing. Participants with physical limitations should take this into account.
Travelers must be 13 years of age and older to participate.
Walks are held rain or shine with some variations to accommodate the weather. If you are running late for your meeting with our guide, we ask that you call to alert us so that we can relay the message to the guide.
You cannot participate in this tour if you have not sent your passport number and name beforehand. Context walks can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to the walk with an 85% refund. Within 48 hours all reservations are final and cannot be refunded. Walks are held rain or shine with some variations to accommodate the weather. If you are running late for your meeting with our guide, we ask that you call to alert us so that we can relay the message to the guide. No shows are treated as last-minute cancelations and are non-refundable. Cancellations within two business days need to be made directly with our local offices by calling them directly (or on the emergency number provided). Cancellations made via email or by calling our U.S. 800 number may not be honored.
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