Sorry this post is late, I changed the date… it was really posted a day late. I wrote a very long post about all we did, but then the computer locked up and I lost the entire thing. I was sad. Still am. So, now I get to write it again :)
Tuesday was a long day for us. We set out with an agenda of visiting Nijou Castle, the Kyoto National Museum, and the Kyoto Handicraft Center… surprisingly we actually managed to achieve our goals.
We started the day out at Nijou Castle, which is located in Kyoto. The construction of this castle was begun by the first shogun of the Tokugawa Era, and completed by the second around 1626. It was brazenly built right next door to the Imperial Palace. I should probably explain here that the shogunate had their capital in Edo (Tokyo) while the Imperial Capital remained in Kyoto… but the shogunate used Nijou as their Kyoto residence. Later, after the Emperor regained power, the site was used for the Imperial Cabinet.
As with most wooden structures, various parts of Nijou have been burned and rebuilt over the years. Several parts of the castle are long gone, and today only two buildings really remain. Unfortunately photos of the interior are not allowed, so we only have photos the the exteriors and surrounding gardens.
It is a shame that we could not photograph the interior. There are intricate wood carvings throughout, and all of the sliding wall panels have paintings by masters of the famed Kano school. Many of those works of art make heavy use of gold leaf. Even the ceilings are intricately decorated. It is truly a beautiful place, or at least it was. Today most of these decorations have faded and you can only see a glimmer of what they once were. Still, it is one of my favorite places in Kyoto. Sean enjoyed it too, and really enjoyed the artwork.
After touring the palace grounds we hailed a cab and headed across town to the Kyoto National Museum. The museum is one of three national museums founded by the government in the Meiji Era (a time of rapid westernization and modernization) in order to protect important cultural artifacts. The collection is very impressive, with pieces ranging from the Paleolithic period to the early 20th century. They not only have items from Japan, but also from Korea and China as they played important roles in the development of the country.
With a collection of about 12,000 items there are far too many things to comment on anything specifically. However, some of my favorite pieces included pottery from the 11th and 12th centuries as well as scrolls/paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. Of course, there were many many beautiful and interesting things there. And, of course, no pictures were allowed… and we completely forgot to go to the gift shop for photographs of the collection. I think it was because, by that point, we were getting pretty hungry and tired and were ready to move on.
We next headed to the Kyoto Handicraft Center, which is basically 6 floors of tourist shopping. The majority of it is your usual tourist crap, but there are some good things to be found there as well. We ended up with a yukata for Sean, a couple cheap yukata for me (for use as a robe), and some other little nick knacks we picked up as gifts. After that we were starving and headed back to the station, where we found a little sushi place in the station hotel.
The sushi place was awesome (and expensive), although pretty westernized. We still need to find a traditional sushi place… although that is kind of hard to do when you are not familiar with an area. We have seen several kaitenzushi (cheap conveyor belt) places, and some little seedy looking places… but so far none that stood out as a good restaurant. Time is running out though… so I really hope we find one soon.