Nijo Castle

Built in 1626, the flatland Nijo Castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, each consisting of a wide moat and a wall with several gates. Buildings within the castle include the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace and various support buildings and gardens. The 35,000 square foot Ninomaru Palace consists of five connected separate buildings, constructed almost solely of Hinoki cypress, covered in elaborate carvings, golf leaf and other decorations intended to show off the power and wealth of the shoguns. The smaller Honmaru Palace features living quarters, entrance halls, reception and entertainment rooms and a kitchen area – all connected by corridors and courtyards, built in the style of the late Edo period. The grounds also include gardens with cherry and Japanese plum trees. 

Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)

This Zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto is one of the 17 monuments of the Historic Monuments of Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1398, the Golden Pavilion is one of Kyoto's most recognizable sites – a three story building set on a reflecting pond, its top two stories covered in pure gold leaf. Each floor of the pavilion represents a different style of architecture. The first floor is in the Shinden style of wood pillars and white plaster walls, the style used for palace buildings. The second floor is in the Bukke style, used for Samurai residences, while the third floor is the Chinese Zen Hall style, gilded both inside and out with gold leaf, and capped with a golden phoenix. Set in a great strolling, the Golden Pavilion is one of the tourist highlights of old Kyoto.

Ryoanji (Ryōan-ji Temple)

The Ryoanji is a Zen Buddhist temple in northwest Kyoto, and one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally a private estate for the Fujiwara family, the temple's most notable highlight is its Zen Garden, a late 15th century stone garden that is one of the most famous in the country. The garden is made in the karesansui style, with raked gravel and15 moss-covered boulders, arranged in such a way that however you look at the garden, only 14 boulders are visible.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

The Fushimi Inari Shrine can be found just two stops down from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara line. The temple is just a few minutes away from the station exit. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the female spirit of fertility and rice. This shrine is particularly remarkable for the unbelievable amount of large torii, or gates, covering the grounds. These large gates were all donated by worshippers as a way of giving thanks to the spirit. Entrance to this shrine is free.

After entering the main torii gate, you'll come to a large shrine. There's another shrine up the steps. To the side you'll find the start of the seemingly endless procession of orange gates. This path provides a charming walk. The gates stretch on and on, and even go up a mountain. To the sides you'll find small paths that lead to little shrines dotting the mountain. You can keep in climbing and climbing, passing small noodle houses, and eventually you'll reach a fantastic view of the city. By this time you might be sweating a river from the strenuous climbing; this shrine is not for the weak of heart!

The Fushimi-Inari shrine was so large that I couldn't even explore all the grounds. The gates just keep on going! It's an incredible sight and one you shouldn't miss. When I went, near dusk, the shrine was not crowded. It's supposed to close at sunrise but people were wandering around long past. The lanterns along the side are lit but you must be careful at night due to the incredibly amount of steps and the possibility of tripping and falling. Be sure to have a good and safe time at this awe-inspiring shrine!


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