Kyoto Day 2 – Fushimi Inari, Nijo Castle and see the illuminated Kiyomizu-dera Temple

We are due to check out from our BnB in Kyoto today. As we have a long list of places we wanted to visit in Kyoto, we checked out after breakfast and left our luggage at the BnB.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of orange torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari is also the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

While the primary reason most foreign visitors come to Fushimi Inari Shrine is to explore the mountain trails, the shrine buildings themselves are also attractive. At the shrine’s entrance stands the Romon Gate, which was donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Behind stands the shrine’s main hall (honden) where all visitors are encouraged to pay respect to the resident deity by making a small offering. At the very back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate-covered hiking trail, which starts with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”)

Washing your hands here is said to bring luck

The hike to the summit of the mountain and back takes about 2-3 hours, however, visitors are free to walk just as far as they wish before turning back. Along the way, there are multiple smaller shrines with stacks of miniature torii gates that were donated by visitors with smaller budgets. There are also a few restaurants along the way, which offer locally themed dishes such as Inari Sushi and Kitsune Udon (“Fox Udon”), both featuring pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), said to be a favorite food of foxes.

After about a 30-45 minute ascent and a gradual decrease in the density of torii gates, visitors will reach the Yotsutsuji intersection roughly half way up the mountain, where some nice views over Kyoto can be enjoyed, and the trail splits into a circular route to the summit. Many hikers only venture as far as here, as the trails do not offer much variation beyond this point and the gate density decreases further.

Fushimi Inari trails is not stroller friendly. A lot of people just left their strollers at the base of the shrine. But we left our stroller at the left storage area in the Restaurant not far from the shrine. We didn’t continue to the top and made our way back at Yotsutsuji intersection. We walked to back to the restaurant where we left our stroller and had lunch there.

Getting there and around

Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 150 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.

Fushimi Inari is always open and the admission fee is free.

NIJO Castle

Known as the Kyoto residence of the famous leader Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first shogun of the Edo Period), Nijō Castle is a stronghold that represents the prestige and power of the mighty leader known as the unifier of Japan. Construction on the castle was begun in 1601 and finished 25 years later by Ieyasu’s grandson Iemitsu. In 1939, the castle was donated to the city of Kyoto and was officially opened to the public. Enjoy exploring and learning about Ieyasu’s dramatic and interesting life – no one said history had to be boring! With hundreds of varieties of flora as well, Nijō-jō is also a great place to view some of Japan’s treasured seasonal beauty.

Interesting features inside Nijo Castle

Karamon or “Chinese-style” gate identified by its use of karahafu, a curved gable particular to Japan (despite the “Chinese” in its name). This gate is a popular photo spot with tourists, and considering how iconic it is, it’s easy to see why the impressive entrance draws a lot of attention. The gate has earned a reputation for its gorgeous woodcarvings, covered in beautiful detailing that must have taken artisans of old countless hours to create.

Ninomaru Palace. The Palace has five buildings, 33 rooms, and 800 tatami mats (straw mats), and is mostly constructed of hinoki cypress. On the front you will see Luan birds (a type of mythical Chinese bird), pine trees, clouds, grass and peonies. The base is made out of squared masonry, and the roof uses cypress bark. The palace was an office and residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns when they visited Kyoto, and so it was constructed to reflect the power of the office. Each room in the palace was designed by great artists of the Kanō school, and the woodwork and painted screens are particularly superb. The floors of the corridor are called uguisubari (nightingale floors) on account of the construction that makes them squeak when stepped upon.

The rooms in the palace can also be used to understand the history of the castle itself as well as the political situation in society at that time. For example, though the Shogun held the real political power, he still put on the act of being beneath the emperor in power. In the Chokushi no Ma, a room where the shogun and messengers from the court would meet, you can see that the messengers would sit at the elevated upper end of the room while the shogun would sit on the lower side, showing deference to the representatives of Kyoto’s imperial court.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside Ninomaru Palace

Ninomaru Garden. Just outside the Ninomaru Palace is the lovely strolling garden titled simply as “The Ninomaru Garden”. The Ninomaru Garden was designed by famous landscape architect and tea master Kobori Enshū (1579-1647). The garden is constructed around a large central pond decorated with a variety of stones of all shapes and sizes, and the pond also has three islands: Hōrai-jima (Island of Eternal Happiness), Tsuru-jima (Crane Island) and Kame-jima (Turtle Island). In 2006, the American magazine Journal of Japanese Gardening ranked Ninomaru Garden eigth out of 731 gardens all over Japan.

Hubby ngajakin ke Nijo Castle karena dia mau lihat tempat tinggal para Shogun. Jadilah kita naik bus kesana. Tiket masuknya 600 Yen. Ada night opening juga untuk Cherry tree illumination. SI Nijo castle ini juga kurang stroller friendly. Lumayan lelah dorong-dorong stroller di tanah pasir dan ada beberapa tangga juga jadi harus angkat stroller. 

The Nijō Castle complex is home to a variety of flowers and trees. Depending on the season you visit there will surely be a different seasonal bloom greeting you upon your arrival. As we come during Cherry Blossom we are blessed to see the pretty cherry blossom trees everywhere in the garden. There are 400 cherry blossom trees of 50 varieties at Nijō Castle. The majority of the cherry blossom were planted from late 1955 until early 1965. Nijō Castle garden is one of the famous places to visit to view Cherry Blossom. We could see a preparation for illumination night taking place at the garden.

Preparation happening for illumination night

Maruyama Koen Park

From Nijo Castle we moved to Maruyama Koen Park to have our own Hanami aka picnic dinner under cherry blossom tree and wait until it is dark so we could see the illuminated temple.

There is a lot of food stalls inside the park. We bought our dinner there and eat them in the picnic style.

Park is always crowded during Cherry Blossom Season

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

After dark we walked to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We could actually take a bus but Hubbie said it was only 19 minutes walking according to Google Map which turned out to twice the time for us because the walk was ascending lol.

During Cherry Blossom season and also in autumn, some of the temples in Kyoto are illuminated at night and open to visit. So if you didn’t have time to visit the temple during the day you can visit at night.

Kiyomizu-dera temple is closed at 5pm and open again from 7pm to 10.30pm. The temple at night illuminated with all the lights is truly a magnificent sight.

We made our way back to the BnB to pick up our luggage and took the train to Shin Osaka. Train from Kyoto to Kansai Airport is 70 minutes away with JR Haruka Limited Express which departs every 30 minutes. It is the quickest way and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. For those without the pass, tickets cost 2,850 yen (for non-reserved seats) and 3,500 yen (for reserved seats).

To make the itinerary more effective we actually should spend the last few days in Kyoto and then take the train to kansai Airport from Kyoto instead of going to back to Osaka for the last 2 days.

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