April 29, 2009

Kyoto - Nijo-jo, Philosophers Walk, Gion, and Ponto-cho

On Wednesday, Mike, Ilena, and Joyce spent a terrific day in Kyoto. While we have been to Kyoto many many times, we are still finding new and interesting places and things to see to do. And on a beautiful spring day like this, it is easy to enjoy especially the quieter areas of Kyoto. This time, we also had some more freedom and time, since the kids had school (Mike was off from work), and we secured a babysitter to watch them afterward.

This day was a really special one. We explored Nijo castle, wandered through the cool mossy mountainside gardens of Ginka-Kuji, strolled down the peaceful Philosophers Walk from end-to-end, browsed the shops and people-watched in the heart of Gion as dusk settled, and then got to stay into the evening, and had a lovely dinner on the ancient lantern-lit alley streets of Ponto-cho near the Kamo River.

After arriving at Kyoto Station, we first went to Niji-Jo (Nijo Castle) in central Kyoto, a place we had not been to before. Nijo was built in the early 1600s as the Kyoto residence of Ieyasu, the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns. There are beautiful wooden carved reliefs over the entrance gates. The outer castle of Nijo, Ninomaru Paralce, has an exquisite array of ancient gold painted sliding tatami room doors, with scenes of cranes, and oceans, and cherry blossoms. As you walk down the hallways, the floors squeak and sound like nightengale's chirping (a special design made to alert of intruders). It was cute to see little kids put their ears to the ground to try and hear the "birds."

We wandered through the back garden, a small but classic Japanese garden, and onto the bridge leading to the inner castle, before we moved on.

We then hopped the bus over to the Eastern side of Kyoto to see Ginka-kuji , the Silver Pavilion, a 15th century zen temple. The best part are the zen sand garden (representing waves and Mount Fuji) and the mossy meandering garden built into the mountainside.

Just outside, down a hill lined with a yummy group of street food-sellers, begins the Philosopher's Walk, a peaceful path that winds along a canal. Since it was a holiday, and a gorgeous day, there were many women out strolling wearing their kimono. We stopped in some neat stores, including this amazing store that sold mobiles made of delicate orbs. There were tea-houses and artists on the street, and some amazing houses and gardens that we would have loved to call our own, and nice views of the rooftops of Eastern Kyoto. Roads off the path lead off to many different temples and shrines, some of which we briefly checked out.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the heart of Gion, and popped into some wonderful shops, including a fabric store that sold beautiful blue handmade obi fabrics and fans. It is really a charming area. The stores and restaurants are of an old dark wood, with curtains, and lanterns, and slippered feet peaking out from within.

As we picked our way through Gion (stopping to sample the tsukemono shops and mochi confectioners), we happened upon this random shrine, adorned with paper cranes, down one of the tiny alleys.

As evening approached, we crossed the Kamo river and went exploring for a restaurant down ponto-cho. This is another fabulous, full-of-character alley. We found a cozy tatami-matted place called Mimasuya, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner of sashimi, fresh tofu, fried pumpkin, and steak.

All-in-all, a truly magical day in Kyoto.


Semsavblanc said...

Thank you for sharing. This is like a tourist guide for a day in Kyoto. I will definitely be printing it out and using it when we go there. Any other tips?

haseemscamel said...

Try Arashiyama.

The Kasdan Family said...

Glad you enjoyed...search our blog for other Kyoto trips we have taken. We haven't had a bad trip there yet! And, yes, Arashiyama is probably our favorite part of Kyoto.

Semsavblanc said...

Thank you. Just revisiting your Kyoto posts. We're heading to Japan in September. It is confirmed now!!!