Tour Kyoto Highlights: Nightingale Floor at Nijo Castle

Exiting the Philosopher’s Path, the Oku Japan group took a subway to Nijo Castle, one of Kyoto’s “must sees” with its world-famous Nightingale Floors. A Nightingale floor (or momoyama) was designed to make a chirping sound when walked on and primarily used in hallways of some temples and palaces. Flooring nails would rub against a clamp which would then chirp or squeak for security against intruders. The most famous Nightingale Floor is in Nijo Castle. Unfortunately, no photographs or video is allowed inside to show what I think is the best part of Nijo as visitors squeak their way around.

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Edo shogunate which ruled Japan from the beginning of the Seventeen Century, to use whenever he visited Kyoto.

 

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: Nanzen-ji Temple Along The Philosopher’s Path

Nanzen-ji Temple in the only Zen Temple built by an Emperor’s Imperial Order. Temples have been built by monks, shoguns and others but very few built at the direction of an Emperor. Founded in 1291 it is the headquarters of the Nanzen-ji school of the Rinzai Sect. Two main gates are designated as Important Cultural Assets. The massive, wooden gate at the entrance is one of the three biggest in Japan, reaches a height of 22 meters/72 feet and was rebuilt at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century. All Japanese architecture during that period was constructed without any nails or glue because their use would be dangerous in earthquake-prone Japan. Look up, gawk and stop to think how these gigantic wooden columns were joined or fitted together by dovetails. Amazing!

 

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: Honen-in Temple and Otoyo Shrine

The Philosopher’s Path got its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who practiced meditation while walking this route daily on his way to Kyoto University. The only 2 kilometer/1.2 mile path follows a canal that is lined with hundreds of blooming cherry trees during Cherry Blossom time. Even though we have been there and done most of today’s scheduled Kyoto sights, it was enjoyable to enjoy this trail considering the previous walk was on a miserable, rainy day.

Peaceful Honen-in Temple with its gorgeous moss gardens is along the Philosopher’s Path at the foot of Mount Nyoigadake, and famous for its thatched gate, freshly raked sand garden, and sliding screens (I don’t remember if we saw the screens or not – all the temples along the path began to blur into one).

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: Ginkakuji or “Silver Pavilion” Temple

“Silver Pavilion” or Ginkakuji is a Zen temple in Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama District). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion which Marine Steve and I visited a year ago. The villa was converted into a Zen temple after his death in 1490.

Although also called Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji was never covered in silver. It is believed the name arose either to contrast it with Golden Pavilion or because moon light reflecting on the building’s dark exterior (once covered in black lacquer) gave it a silvery appearance. The pavilion is one of only two buildings on the grounds of Ginkakuji which have survived many fires and earthquakes.

 

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Information About The Oku Japan “Land of Fire Tour”

We selected this particular Oku Japan “Land of Fire” trip because it travels to Kyushu Island, an area not often visited by western tourists. Considered the cradle of Japanese civilization, several locations connected with Japanese creation myths are featured along the journey to Kyushu which is also known for its numerous active volcanoes. Spectacular Mount Aso is a tourist magnet for those who want to see steam rising from the vents but there is no guarantee visitors can visit if winds are blowing dangerous sulphur and gases on the day scheduled. Que sera…

A natural by-product of the volcanoes are ‘onsen‘ or hot springs, and we would have a chance to enjoy many relaxing dips as well as the unforgettable hot sand baths at Yamakawa where visitors are buried in sand heated by hot spring water.

 

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: The Magnificent Kyoto Station

Incredible Kyoto Train Station is a world in itself. One of the largest railways stations in the world and largest in Japan, it is owned and operated by the Western Japan Passenger Railroad Co. Ltd, serves the Japanese Railway (JR), Kintetsu Lines, Subway, City Buses and cost an estimated $1.25 Billion to construct. Odds are you will arrive and/or depart from this station going “somewhere.” The 15-story glass was inaugurated in 1997 structure to replace\ the old Kyoto station which burned down in 1952.

Leave time when traveling through futuristic Kyoto Station to ride the giant escalator up nine levels to the roof observation deck for expansive views of both Kyoto and the train station.

 

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: The Lively Nishiki Market

I hope you enjoy eating food, reading about food, and watching videos about food because it was impossible to escape the overabundance of restaurants, stalls, and purveyors in Japan. Nishiki Market in Kyoto is just one example. The nearly 400 year old long, covered market begins on a street leading off Teramachi Arcade and runs for six blocks. It began as a fish wholesale district and the first shop opened around 1615. A variety of shops moved in later, and the area changed from a wholesale market to retail market. Although we passed it daily walking to and from the Hearton Hotel during our last visit to Kyoto, we never had enough time to visit. Well! Let’s fix that!

 

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Famous Shopping and Strolling Areas in Kyoto, Japan

I am going to primarily write about “Downtown Kyoto” – my favorite area for browsing and shopping. Downtown Kyoto is a small area bounded on the East by the Kamogawa River, west by Karasuma-dori, north by Oike-dora, and on the South by Shijo-dori. This area along Shijo and near the intersection of Shijo and Kawaramachi  is where many pedestrian arcades, large department stores, boutiques, Takashimaya, Marui and Daimaru Department Stores are located. Basement levels in both Takashimaya and Daimaru are filled with food to eat there or take away, all to die for. I can easily spend an hour browsing the countless selections of fresh and tasty food. The problem lies in trying to figure out what you are looking at. Is that fried hunk fish, chicken, pork? I resort to charades: oinking and/or clucking at the person behind the counter. Makes for great hilarity but even more important, clarifies the unidentifiable food.

Chicken? Fish? or Pork? in Kyoto, Japan

Chicken? Fish? or Pork? in Kyoto, Japan

 

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Tour Kyoto Highlights: The Higashiyama District

Kyoto is one of those cities that can be visited over and over again. There is always something new to see, another temple, an occasional geisha rushing down the street, pedestrian streets filled with stores and food. Yum, yum, yum. Let your feet do the walking and follow school groups who are always on their way to Kyoto’s most important sights. What a great city!

 

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Four-Star Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa, Japan

Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa is located on famous Kawaramachi Street in the center of the city and a one-minute walk from Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae subway station. As a matter of fact, it was close to Hearton Hotel where we stayed last time and we felt very much at-home in this area.

All 443 guest rooms are spacious (unlike the Hearton Hotel where we slept surrounded by suitcases in a minuscule room) and have: air conditioning, flat screen TV, Free Wi-Fi, ensuite bathrooms with those wonderful toilets that do almost everything but cook breakfast, and a work desk. However, there is always a fly in the ointment. The nice sized room had a minuscule bathroom that could only accommodate one person at a time, and there was a step up into the bathroom that scares the bejesus out of me when making a “nocturnal” visit. I do understand why there is a step up since many Japanese hotels put the plumbing and electrical under the raised bathroom floor.

 

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