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A distinctive Kyoto landmark built in 1964 and situated directly in front of Kyoto station, this 131-meter-high, slim orange and white tower, resembling a torch, is generally panned by guidebook writers, but illuminated at night it serves as a truly handy location device. Inside are an observation platform, souvenir shop, hotel and a large bathhouse, plus an assortment of weird and wonderful amusements and arcade games.
Nijō-jō (Nijo Castle) is an ostentatious display of might built for the first Shogun of the Edo Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle is fortified by huge walls, moats and towers which exude military prowess. The magnificent visage gives way to equally-elegant interiors, including the wooden nightingale floors that squeak when stepped, designed thus to ensure that no intruder could pass without inadvertently announcing his presence even at night. Inside, the artists of the Kano School have lavished walls, doorways and screens with elegant paintings. The castle grounds are further enlivened by a tapestry of scenic elements including a placid pond, the lovely Ninomaru Gardens, and breathtaking groves of cherry blossoms. Having found its due place on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the castle is a majestic illustration of not just architectural excellence, but also the social and cultural significance it commanded during its heyday.
In the midst of Kyoto's concrete jungle, the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park provides a healthy dash of green to denizens' tired eyes. This stunning park surrounds the magnificent Kyoto Imperial Palace and is a quiet haven where to spend a lazy afternoon with a loved one, or simply take a stroll along its verdant grounds. Although not among the most favored cherry blossom spots in the city, this park is home to quite a few blooming wonders, including the plum arbor on the west side and the shidare-zakura that flowers during late March or early April.
Kyoto's most imposing shrine was built in 1884 to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the city. It is dedicated to the first and last Emperors to reside in the old capital. The bright orange and green main hall is a scaled down replica of the Heian Period Imperial Palace. Entrance to the extensive grounds are free, but there is a charge to enter the exquisitely landscaped strolling garden complete with large ornamental pond, covered bridge and a multitude of delightful cherry trees, azaleas, water lilies and irises. Open daily 6a.
Surrounded by lush foliage and overlooking a tranquil pond in the heart of Kyoto, the stunning Kinkaku-ji is an iconic Zen shrine built in the 14th Century. Originally constructed as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the gilded villa became an iconic religious entity after the former's death. Part of a larger complex, the gleaming shrine is the only surviving element of this former retirement estate. Despite being ravaged by fire twice during the destructive Onin War and later having suffered a fiery fate at the hands of a schizophrenic monk, the temple was restored to its former resplendent glory in 1955. The most striking part of this serene shrine is the upper gold-paneled floors that shine in the mellow sun, and the ethereal reflection of its form in the pond below. The first floor promises the utmost calm, an almost palpable aura that radiates from the statues of the Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu that are placed here. The second floor is a secret sanctum shielded from the eyes of the common public, where the Kannon Bodhisattva rests in peaceful meditation, encircled by idols of Four Heavenly Kings. Designated a National Special Historic Site, the vivid beauty of the Kinkaku-ji attracts scores of visitors from both Japan and the world.
Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, was constructed as a retreat by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1489 after the destruction of much of Kyoto in the Onin Civil War of 1467. Its rather somber feel contrasts with the dazzling Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, on which it was modeled. The story goes that Yoshimasa ran short of funds to coat the building with silver so that it could reflect the moonlight. Now a Zen temple, the elegant grounds contain a tranquil pond, a stone garden with raised cones, again to reflect moonlight, and a moss garden all designed by master gardener, Soami.
The Garden of Fine Art situated adjacent to the north entrance of Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Gardens seeks to introduce the work of classical artists to a new audience in a modernistic outdoor setting. Billed as 'The first garden of paintings in the world', the Garden of Fine Art was built in 1990 and holds several enlarged ceramic reproductions of the European Old Masters. These include the Last Judgement by Michelangelo and the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, plus works by Monet, Seurat, Renoir and Van Gogh. In addition there are pieces by classical Chinese and Japanese artists. The al fresco gallery is traversed by minimalist concrete walkways and bounded by sheer concrete walls with cooling running water-features flowing horizontally and vertically. Admission JPY100.