Nijo Castle – Kyoto, Japan

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shogun was a title given to the commander and chief/military dictator of Japan. The Shogun period spanned from 800 to 1867 AD.

Left edge of Nijo’s front wall. Nijo Castle is surrounded by a moat.
Main Entrance

While appointed by the Emperor, the Shogun served as the actual ruler of Japan with the Emperor serving as more of a ceremonial and spiritual leader. Real power was returned to the Emperor in 1867 as part of Meiji Revolution.

The castle’s exterior wall, surrounded by a moat, represents the first line of defense. Once inside the castle, there is a secondary circle of defense known as the Ninomaru. The Karamon Gate serves as the entrance to the Ninomaru.

Karamon Gate

The main feature of the Ninomaru is the Ninomaru Palace which served as the shogun’s residence when visiting Kyoto.

Ninomaru Palace

After the fall of the shogun and return of power to the Emporer, Nijo Castle was turned over to the city of Kyoto and later opened up for public access. The castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994 and serves as an excellent example of castle palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era.

Kyoto, Japan – Shirakawa Canal

Traveling to Kyoto Japan was one of my more challenging trips to plan. Through the help of numerous travel blogs, I ended up staying in the Higashisyama district. Looking back, it was a great location to experience Kyoto.

On my first morning in Kyoto, I went for a run with the intent of running along the Kamo river. Along the way, an inviting canal called for a closer look.

Deeper inside the canal area, I realized I had stumbled across a special location. The canal is lined with willow trees and classic Kyoto architecture.

Combined with the early morning light and empty streets, I was feeling quite immersed in a feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Just one of those magical moments.

After my run, I did a little research and learned that I had been in the Shirakawa Canal area which is within walking distance of the popular Shijo Avenue and Gion District. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, I learned the structures I had seen were actually nice restaurants and ochayas (Geisha tea houses) that blended in quietly along the canal.

Strolling along the canal later in the day, I realized the area was quite popular. I don’t know if the presence of kimonos was a daily event here or if it was a period of Japanese national and/or religious significance. Regardless, there were many men and women along the canal posing for photos by family or professional photographers. The lady in the third image had an interesting mask in her hand but, again, not sure about the meaning.

All along the canal, there are many crossings and points of departure that will take you away from this oasis and back into busier areas of the city…if you have to go. However, the Shirakawa Canal makes a compelling visual case to stay and enjoy its tranquility and beauty.

Additional posts from Japan:

Japan – The Unfamiliar Routine

My trip to Kyoto, Japan was filled with visits to incredible temples, gardens, and historic sites. Even the more routine parts of the day were filled with interesting moments.

Candy isle – so many unfamiliar brands.
Even with this translation, I assure you, their English was better than my Japanese.
Toilets are serious business in Japan. Go ahead, touch any button…I dare you.
This is a toilet advertisement. Heated seat, multiple point sprayer, deodorizer, and warm air dryer are features that are sure to make a big splash.
This tofu variety platter with noodles on ice isn’t what I thought I ordered. Well, the beer was great.
Not sure the food is working for me. Maybe I should get more beer?
Seeing and using foreign currency is always interesting. ~ 100 USD
I travel around the United States a lot so it is unique to see a flight board with cities like this listed.
Japan’s bullet trains hit a top speed of 200 mph.
Geisha sighting near the Gion district in Kyoto. You aren’t supposed to photograph Geisha so this was a subtle shot from a distance. She created a celebrity-like buzz at this intersection.
Oh yeah, the school uniforms…it is real.
Seemed to be my beverage of choice while in Japan.

These are a few things that caught my eye during day-to-day moments around Kyoto. There were also a few distinctive mannerisms of the Japanese that stood out in day-to-day interactions.

  • They are very polite and gracious. Who knows what they are thinking, but as someone who also prefers to behave in a polite manner, it felt comfortable.
  • Japan is very clean. Garbage cans in public areas were hard to find but there was no litter. You keep your trash and dispose of it at home.
  • People don’t walk around with food or coffee in their hands.
  • It is rare to hear a car horn, and I loved that!
  • Restrooms rarely had paper towels at the sink or garbage cans. I observed Japanese men and they had handkerchiefs with them for this purpose.
  • Taxi drivers wore white cotton gloves.
  • It was considered improper to place money directly in someone’s hand. Money was always exchanged using a tray that was passed back and forth.
  • Seafood is common for breakfast. Grits and biscuits with gravy were not.

Hope you had a few chuckles with this one. And, just to be clear, I am in no way poking fun at or trying to disparage Japanese culture. I am only pointing out some differences that stood out to me as an American. Not worse, not better…only different. I loved my trip to Japan and look forward to returning again to immerse myself deeper into the culture.

More from Japan:

Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Kyoto, Japan

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto and part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. According to, “Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. It was founded in 780 AD on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills Kyoto and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters.”

The water fall is channeled into three streams representing long life, prosperity, and success in love. Visitors are allowed to drink from the streams; however, drinking from all three is considered greedy.

The approach to Kiyomizu-dera is spectacular and dominated by red, vibrant pagodas. A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves common throughout Asia. Most have a religious function most commonly associated with Buddhism.

The three-story pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera is one of the tallest in Japan.

Before entering the main temple, you have an opportunity (fee required) to visit the Zuigu-do hall housing the Tainai Meguri. You will then walk down the stairs into the pitch black tunnel symbolizing the womb of a female bodhisattva. Your return from darkness to light symbolizes being born again. In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood.

The view from the temple during my visit was somewhat limited due to restoration. My photo below on your left shows the main temple as it was in late 2018 with the roof and walls covered. Restoration should be complete by early 2020. The next photo (below to your right) is a picture I took of a photo on the wall showing the temple in winter. It was so dramatic I just couldn’t resist.

The view from the stage (the large wooden deck) is a very popular sight when the cherry trees are in bloom and when the leaves of the maple trees in the valley below are donning their fall colors. My photo also gives you a sense of how large this place is. I came up on the left side of the temple where the red pagodas are located and then walked through the temple and came out on the right side.

From left to right: Kyoto on the horizon, red pagoda, and Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall.

From there, you can head left and further up steps along the steep mountain side while still remaining inside temple complex. Or, you can take a right as I did and keep walking through the other temple buildings. I was still within the temple complex when taking the photo across the valley and the top of trees.

Leaving Kiyomizu-dera, I walked through the bustling shopping area known as Sannenzaka which caters to tourists and those making religious pilgrimages to site. Throughout Sannenzaka and Kiyomizu-dera, you’ll see many students of field trips wearing their school uniforms, other visitors from throughout Asia wearing vibrant Kimonos, and still more with parasols.

Leaving Kiyomizu-dera, getting a bite to eat was next on my list. While I ate plenty of wonderful Japanese meals, finding food for my American palate seemed to be a daily adventure in Kyoto. This day was no different until…

I have never been so happy to see hot dogs and cappuccino on a menu in my life.