So the place that I am going to recommend that I think most Japanese people have probably never heard of is Tanuki-dani Fudoin, in Kyoto. There are so many things to do and places to visit in Kyoto that even after living there for a year I didn’t begin to scratch the surface. There are many places that I could easily and wholeheartedly recommend, and it would take far too long, so I am going to talk about one that is very nice, and I think, less well known than many. Tanuki-dani Fudoin is a temple in the Tanuki Valley in Kyoto’s Sagyo ward. It is not far from Kyoto University of Art and Design.
The entrance to Tanuki Valley is not so difficult to find, and in fact it is in a residential neighborhood. Once you are close by it is only a matter of going up the fairly steep road to the entrance proper. Once there you will notice that there are, along the staircases that lead to the Fudoin temple, hundreds of tanuki statues. There is a large group of them at the beginning of the first long staircase up the valley, of various sizes and styles. The statues continue sporadically as you climb the staircases and follow the trail. Along the path the trees get thicker as you go deeper and further up the path. There is a charming small shrine with a little waterfall whose soft gurgling is quite soothing. Even though it is not at all far removed from the city, the further you go up to the temple the more cover the trees provide until you feel like you have slipped into the woods completely. The temple itself isn’t the largest or grandest temple, but it has a beautiful balcony that juts out from the hill and you feel like you’re floating above the forest a bit while you are on it. Through the trees, at the height of the temple balcony, you can see a fairly nice view of the city itself spread out before you. Inside the shrine the temple is quite pretty with all you would expect from a Buddhist temple with a long history.
With Tanuki-dani Fudoin you get a unique experience, quite close to the city while at the same time being surrounded by enough trees on the mountain that you can feel very connected to nature. It is quite easy to add this temple into a larger sightseeing trip, and it is one of the places in Kyoto that is not going to be overrun with tourists. It is a great mix of the natural and the modern, the historical and the new. There are also paths around the temple that lead around the mountain and, although they are rare, there is a chance you might see a wild tanuki. Who knows, any one of those statues along the way might be a real tanuki in disguise. It is certainly possible to be caught up in the charm of the place and to have a really enjoyable, relaxed experience there.
scratch the surface (idiom) ? to deal with only a very small part of something
wholeheartedly (adverb) ? with complete sincerity and commitment
sporadically (adverb) ? occasionally or at irregular intervals
gurgling (adjective) ? making or characterized by a hollow bubbling sound
juts out (phr. verb) ? to stick out; extend
overrun (verb) ? spread over or occupy (a place) in large numbers