Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Historic Tour of Ancient Kyoto (Part 1)

Kyoto, the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868, is home to a lot of temples and shrines built around the city that were luckily spared from the destruction of World War II. Most of these historic structures are now open for the public to see and learn the culture and history of Japan.

Nijo Castle

Completed after 23 years since it started construction in 1603, Nijo Castle was the residence of the first shogun (military commander in ancient Japan) during the Edo Period. After the fall of Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867, the castle was used as an imperial palace before it was donated to the city as a historical site and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The castle's main attraction, Ninomaru Palace, was the official residence and office of the shogun in Kyoto. The palace consists of multiple buildings connected by corridors with nightingale floors that make chirping noises when stepped upon as a security measure against intruders.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)

One of the most photographed temples in Kyoto, Kinkakuji was built as the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The impressive temple with two floors covered in gold was a display of the extravagant Kitayama culture. Kinkakuji is not open to the public so tourists can just admire its beauty from across the large pond that reflects a mirror image of the Golden Pavilion.

When in Japan, don't forget to try their famous soft-served ice cream especially if you're traveling during the hot and humid summer months that starts in June. I like mine is Matcha flavor.

Another thing Japan is famous for aside from their bullet train is the abundance of vending machines that you can find in almost every corner of the city that sells just about everything.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Before moving the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868, the Kyoto Imperial Palace used to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family. The complex is enclosed by tall walls with several gates, halls and zen gardens. The current palace was reconstructed in 1855 after it was burnt to the ground and moved repeatedly around town over the centuries.

From all the palace and temples we visited, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is the strictest as guests can only enter on guided tours with advance reservation (definitely no walk-ins) and have to form in lines at all times as it is still used by the Imperial Family during coronation ceremonies.

We booked our 1-Day Kyoto Tour online through JTB Sunrise Tours for about Php6,300 per person which includes transportation and admission fees, Japanese lunch and an English speaking guide. We opted to book the tour instead of doing a do-it-yourself tour to save time and money as transportation in Japan is really expensive and some temples require advance reservation.

Next: Part 2 of the Historic Tour of Ancient Kyoto

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