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3-Day Model Trip Day2

3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Kansai / Sightseeing in Kyoto - Nara

Kyoto became the seat of the government in 794. It flourished as the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years until the central government was transferred to Tokyo in 1869. There is no end to the list of charms of Kyoto, not only its historical cultural assets but art, craft, delicacies and nature as well.

First I visited the Nijo-jo Castle, a World Cultural Heritage. First Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu ordered to build this castle for the defense of Kyoto and for his accommodation during his stay in Kyoto in 1603. The construction was completed in 1626. You take off your shoes and enter the Ninomaru Goten Palace, a national treasure. It is a large palace with 6 wards and 33 parlors including Ohiroma, or the main hall and Shiro-shoin parlor. You can look into each room dedicated to different usage and appreciate splendid paintings on the fusuma paper-door close at hand. Contrasting to the exterior appearance of a magnificent castle, the interior is gorgeous and elegant to my surprise. There are also the Ninomaru-teien Garden, a special scenic asset and the Honmaru Goten, or the donjon palace, an Important Cultural Property. The total area is as large as 275,000 m2. The gates close at 5 p.m., but the Higashi-Ote-mon Gate or the east gateway and other parts of the castle are illuminated. You can see a fantastic sight of the Nijo Castle from the streets, which is totally different from its daytime appearance.

After Nijo-jo Castle, I went to the Kinkaku-ji Temple. The Kinkaku-ji Temple was designated as World Cultural Heritage in 1994. Its official name is Rokuon-ji, but it is called Kinkaku-ji, or the golden pavilion, because it is famous for Shari-den, the gold-plated sanctuary that enshrines Buddha's bones in the precincts. It was built as a villa for the third Ashikaga Shogun Yoshimitsu in 1397. After Yoshimitsu's death, it was reformed as a zen temple dedicated for him. The garden around the golden pavilion is said to express the paradise. The layout of the pond called the Kyoko-chi Pond and the golden pavilion is the most commonly shown sight of Kyoto. You can see the scenery of brightly shining golden pavilion reflected on the pond against the blue sky, a typical picture postcard sight on sunny days. The Kinkaku-ji Temple has a unique service. When you pay the admission fee, you don't receive an admission ticket but an amulet. You can get fortune slips in Chinese and Korean at the side of the Fudo-do sanctuary.

I went on to the Kyoto Palace. The Kyoto Palace had been the imperial palace from 1331 to 1869 when the government functions were transferred to Tokyo. There are the Shishin-den, the hall for State Ceremonies where coronations for the successive emperors were held, the Seiryo-den that was the daily residence of emperors, and other solemn buildings making us feel the reminiscence of the imperial regime. The sight of the Shishin-den viewed from the red Kenrei-mom Gate, in particular, is one of the most elegant scenes of the palace. The sophisticated elegant appearance called forth the admiration of the beholders. You need to apply for admission to the palace except on special days open to public in spring and autumn.

After I appreciated the elegant palace, I headed for the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is famous for its principal sanctuary built on a steep cliff. It was registered as the World Cultural Heritage in 1994. The 139 zelkova pillars that support the balcony are over 12 meters tall. There is a metaphor in Japan, "to jump from the balcony of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple" used when you resolve to do something daring because of this height. This balcony is a stage for ancient music and dance performance dedicated to the deity, but it is a popular site for the tourists because it commands a wonderful view of the city of Kyoto. The limpid water that falls in three streams is the Otowa-no-taki Fall. The name Kiyomizu means pure water, and it derived from this sacred fountain that plashes and dimples. It is believed that if you ladle the water with a dipper and drink it, you will live long and your wishes will come true.

The area surrounding the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is charming, with the figure of the 5-story pagoda of the Hokan-ji Temple coming in and out of sight. It is an ideal spot for strolling. The Kiyomizu-zaka slope, Ninen-zaka slope and San'nei-zaka slope, in particular, are fringed with souvenir shops. You would lose the sense of the passage of time here as you look into those shops. You will most certainly find nice souvenirs here. The examples include fans, Nishijin-ori textile, Yuzen-zome dyed silk and Kiyomizu-yaki pottery. They are expensive artworks but you can also find a fan for daily use, a wallet or scarf as an example of the textile, a mug and many other practical articles at reasonable prices. Popular foods as souvenirs are the Kyoto pickles that preserve the original tastes of the materials, Yatsuhashi cookies, Japanese spice Shichimi-togarashi. Since there are many teahouses that attract you during your strolls, why don't you sample the Japanese sweets and tea made of powdered tealeaves, or sweet sake in winter, and other Japanese snacks there? The Kyoto cuisines have many specialties, such as tofu dishes, the vegetarians' Shojin dishes, and many other traditional dishes.

After the stroll, it is time to head for Nara.