Friday 26 May 2016 – Kyoto – Start of APT Tour

We woke this morning to a fine morning with blue skies and a few clouds. While the morning stated off mild, by lunch-time, it was quite hot – approximately 30 degrees.
At 8.30am, we met some of our fellow travellers and our Tour Manager, Dot, as we commenced our APT Tour. We also met our local guide, Meg and our driver, Hiroshi.
Our first stop was to the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), which is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto and its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf that reflects a sheen on the pond surrounding the little island it is positioned on. Formally known as Rokuon-ji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s villa. The Pavilion was burnt down 3 times and was rebuilt in 1955. After the Shogun’s death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request, and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.
There were lots of people at the Golden Pavilion, including hundreds of school children, who came here from all over Japan to visit what was once the Capital city that is filled with history. We were taken to the best place to take photos and then wandered along the pathway around the pond and through the grounds. We discovered that in Japan you can buy just about anything from a vending machine from soft drinks to beer to hot coffee to food and ice-creams and novelties to name a few.
Our next stop was a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning gardens.
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Edo Period. His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle’s palace building 23 years later and also added a five-storey castle keep. Nijo Castle is famous for its “nightingale” floors, which alerted the Shoguns against intruders by chirping like birds when they were walked on.
Our Local Guide, Meg, told us that from 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an Imperial Palace for a while before being donated to the city and being opened to the public as a historic site. She said that the palace buildings are good examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Our tour of the castle commenced at the Higashi Ote-Mon Gate and then through to the very ornate Kara-mon Gate, which has layers of cypress bark for the roof of the gate. It had coloured carvings of cranes, pine, bamboo and blossoms. Then, after taking our shoes off and leaving them in a designated numbered area, we entered the Nimomaru-goten Palace. We walked slowly through the six connected buildings and Meg explained some of the wall paintings to us (there are over 3,600) – we were not allowed to take photos inside. The paintings, from the Kano school and the metalwork fittings were similar to what would have been in the residence of the Shoguns. As we walked along the Palace Nightingale Corridor, we could make chirping patterns with the way we walked. The “song of the nightingale” is caused by clamps moving against nails driven into the wooden beams supporting the floor.
After we had retrieved our shoes, we wandered through the Ninomaru Garden, which is a classic Shoin-zukuri garden, with a large island symbolising Paradise and a Crane island and a Turtle island. We saw a heron on a rock in the pond and he just sat there keeping an eye on everyone, turning his head from time to time.
From Nijo Castle, we were taken to a restaurant for a traditional Heihachi Lunch Box lunch and it was nice chatting to some of our other tour group. The lunch box had several small dishes with various food in them and we had some sauces, soup, rice and Japanese Steamed Egg Custard, which is nothing like the custard we are used to. We had watermelon for dessert, which was refreshing. The restaurant too had a small lake with a little bridge over it and we chatted to a lady who comes every day to feel the carp and also to feed a turtle using chopsticks – the turtle lifted his head up and gently took the food from the chopsticks – fascinating!
After lunch, we visited the Sanjusangendo Temple, Japan’s longest wooden structure. Sanjusangendo Temple, meaning Hall with thirty-three spaces between columns, describes the architecture of the long main hall of the temple. Sanjusangendo is the popular name for the Rengeo-in, is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The temple was founded in 1164 and rebuilt a century later after the original structure had been destroyed in a fire.
Once again, we took our shoes off and walked slowly through the Temple, while Meg explained about the 1000 statues that were in rows of 10 deep, and one big seated statue, with 28 Buddhist guardian deities placed along the front row to protect the Buddhist deity Kannon. Again, we were not allowed to take photos inside the building.
We were brought back to our hotel mid-afternoon to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening at our leisure. We caught up with our blog and photos and did a little bit of washing.
This evening, we went to The Hill of Tara, an Irish Pub a few doors up from the hotel and had a drink – Richard had a Kilkenny beer – 2 pints actually! He thought it was hilarious that we were in Japan in an Irish Pub, full of Aussies! He had a Shepherd’s Pie…. well, the Japanese version of one anyway. He had to eat it with a spoon but he said it was delicious and Sandy had fish & chips.
After dinner we went for a stroll around the streets and then came back to the hotel to have an early night.
Today was enjoyable and a slower pace than yesterday and we only walked 7.5km and climbed 4 flights of stairs.

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