(photo of Kyoto schoolgirls by Simone Cannon)
I can't think of a lovlier setting for a few laps arond the track than this temple in Kyoto, Japan. As I was exploring the grounds and buildings, I repeatedly ran into groups of giggling schoolgirls stretching, running, eating lunch, listening to music or practicing martial arts. Physical fitness and competition are extremely important parts of Japanese life and physical education is taught at every level of school. The Japanese consider it crucial to the physical, mental, and social development of children and all are expected to particpate, starting in some schools as early as kindergarten.
Ninnaji Temple in Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in the year 888, and was originally an Imperial residence. The compound houses various temples, gardens, a pagoda, a bell tower, dwarf cherry trees and tea houses. It is an important temple, as it is the head of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. The temple has repeatedly been destroyed by war and fire, but has been rebuilt every time. The temple is well worth a visit, but be sure to set aside a full day; the grounds are extensive and there's a lot to see.