Touring Kyoto: Nijo Castle, Shopping and Important Sights
Two days in Kyoto would just about cover the highlights. The big ones are Nijo (Nijo-jo) Castle, Kyimozu Dera, the Golden Paviliion, Kinkaku-ji, and Ohara temples, leave time for wandering the quaint older area of Kyoto, and fill up the empty places in our stomachs with a substantial amount of food.
Kate took us to Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo), originally built in 1603 to be the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun. It has been renamed several times and designated a historic relic. The castle consists of two rings of fortifications, Ninomaru Palace, Ninomaru Garden and an area surrounded by the inner moat of the castle.
It’s definitely worth taking the time to tour Ninomaru Palace inside the Nijo Castle grounds. My favorite was the Nightingale Floor (Uguisu-Bari). It is called the Nightingale Floor because the wooden floors leading to the Grand Chambers squeak and creak whenever anyone steps on them. Difficult for an intruder or assassin to sneak in without those floors singing like little nightingales. The first and second Grand Chambers were the official audience rooms and behind the sliding doors was the bodyguard’s room who protected the Shogun. I’ve read and re-read James Clavell’s Shogun umpteen times and can admire his attention to detail now that I’ve seen a Shogun’s palace and stayed in little Royokan.
There were several gorgeous traditional Japanese gardens. The Seiryu-en Garden contains 800 stones and one-tea house that were originally part of a residence built around 1600.
From Nijo Castle, we took a walk in the area of Kawaramachi Dori and Shijo Dori on the other side of the Kamo River (Kamogawa River) into the Higashiyama old area. There are little side streets running up and down towards Kiyomizu Temple. Many tourist shops and specialized shops selling lacquerware, combs, hairpins, tea cups and pots, magnificent fans along with the other tourist souvenirs. And everything is always so exquisitely displayed that only the cost kept us from going beserk.
At night in the Gion area, also called Karamachi rivertown, you can find bars, pubs, cafes, discos, restaurants and Ochaya, a place for customers to drink and dine while Geishas entertain in traditional architecture.
Food? Of course, Sushi but we opted for dinner at Suehiro, a big Japanese restaurant chain known for Kobe beef. In case you’ve never heard about Kobe beef, a little information about what makes it so famous. The cattle are raised in the Kansai area (including around Kyoto) and each cow receives a daily massage with beer and sake. This is supposed to add to the flavor. Suehiro had a set menu that included a small salad, about three pieces of potato, and a portion of Kobe beefsteak that dieticians recommend we eat for healthful living. Certainly not the usual 10 to 16 oz. steak we’re accustomed to. It was good, not great, perhaps not the best example of Kobe beef but darn expensive even so.
Public transportation (very simple to take) back to Myorenji Temple. The group tour was almost finished.