Omuro, an elegant area in northwest Kyoto, is a neighborhood that until recently was home to four groups of people: temple priests, the descendants of the former aristocracy, movie stars, and what for a better term could be called peasants. Today only the priests and a handful of older people who can trace their roots to the aristocracy remain. The film industry crowd either died out or left for Tokyo when the film studio in nearby Uzumasa closed in the early 1970s; the peasants have mostly become middle class.
Aside from a small train line--the Keifuku Line, which ferries tourists to Arashiyama--a lot of urban green, and one of the first public schools in Kyoto, what is most striking about the neighborhood is its largest temple: Ninnaji.
Ninnaji Temple was founded in 886 by the Emperor Uda. For decades prior to that, it had served as a summer home for the Imperial Family, which would use it to escape the brutal summer heat of the more centrally located Gosho Palace. Uda served as head priest for thirty years; he was then succeeded by his son. This practice of having an Emperor's son act as head priest at Ninnaji lasted until the Imperial Family left for Tokyo in 1869.
Today, in addition to one part of the temple that has been designated a World Heritage site, the Temple is best known for its omuro zakura, or Omuro Cherry tree. The species is small and late blooming. It is only after the Someyoshi and Mountain and Weeping Cherries have begun sprouting green leaves that the Omuro Cherry will burst into bloom.
Aside from the one World Heritage site temple, the rest of the Ninnaji grounds are free. You can walk in and stroll the vast complex without opening your wallet--except in April when the trees come in bloom. At that time, the Temple is flooded with tour groups from the provinces and costs 300 yen to enter.
Benches are set up under the low-hanging branches. Women come in kimono, people drink in midday, and there are many stalls selling local products. Two women--obviously tourists, large tourists--came dressed as maiko, apprentice geisha, and had a photographer in tow.
In addition, restoration work on the 360-year-old Kusho Myojin Shrine--which is located in the back of the grounds and is pictured above right--has been completed. The Shrine was built in the 1640s and is a National Cultural Property. The orange and blues were nearly blinding.
Books on Japanese Society
Kyoto Shrines and Temples Guide
Japan Kyoto World Heritage Sites
Sunday, April 23, 2006