Japan Pt2 – Kyoto day 2: Palaces, Castles, and Geishas

*warning – this is gonna be quite a looong post with lots of pics. You can read Part 1 here*

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Day two started off with a guided walking tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which was free but needed advanced reservations and approval from the Kyoto Imperial Household Agency. Our tour started at 10am, so we decided to head out a bit earlier and have breakfast at the Imperial Palace Gardens. The outer compound was huge, and it took us quite a while to walk up to the entrance gates. The tour was conducted in English, and it brought us around the Imperial Palace grounds. Kyoto had been the capital of Japan for over 1000 years, before moving to Tokyo in 1869. The palace was actually destroyed by fire several times but always rebuilt in the same traditional manner and in the same location. Nowadays the palace is uninhabited and serves as a museum.
Morning happy faces


wide gravel promenades..You can just imagine imperial processions strolling through the park

gurgling stream in the peach grove

strolling through the Imperial Palace grounds

The Imperial Palace Inner Wall

Seishomon Gate, the entrance for visitors

The tiger room in the Shodaibunoma, the waiting area for courtiers on official visits to the palace

The Shishinden, the most important building in the palace complex. Used for enthronement ceremonies and other state ceremonies

Jomeimon Gate heading to the Shishinden. The vermillion colour is believed to ward off evil 

incredible detailing on the roof structure

I looove the roofs…

Shishinden and a glimpse of the base of the throne inside


more roof ogling

Kenshunmon Gate, the entrance for the empress, princes and princesses

Roof construction details. The entire roof is made out of cypress bark, hand laid in several layers. each piece of bark is pinned into place with a bamboo pick. 

The cypress bark is used because it has natural water resistance, flexibility to form shapes, and insect repellent properties. The thickened part of the roof near the front is just for aesthetics and is also made of cypress bark. 

Shunkoden, one of the most recently built buildings in the complex

more roof love

The Seiryoden, used as the emperors residence

Seiryoden, that white tent is where the emperor would rest

Keiyakibashi bridge at the Oikeniwa gardens

traditional Japanese garden, the idealized landscape

strolling garden for the royalty

Oikeniwa Gardens



Gonaitei gardens

path towards the empress and childrens quarters

our tour guide

Gonaitei gardens <3
During the tour, the tour guide explained that there was a period during which Kyoto was not ruled by the emperor, but rather by the shogun, leader of the samurai. The shogun did not reside in the imperial palace, but in Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo) instead. After some time, the 15th shogun Yoshinobu publicly and peacefully restored the sovereignty to the emperor. We thought it would be interesting to see the difference between an imperial palace and a samurai castle so we headed there afterwards.

Nijo Castle

Nijo-jo was in fact incredibly different than the imperial palace. It seemed to have a darker, more heavy air. While the imperial palace only had thick outer walls, Nijo-jo had a succession of moats and high, thick walls. The gardens were not as dense and manicured, but the buildings were far more decorated. What was great was that unlike the imperial palace, we could actually enter into the castle and walk through it, though photography was not allowed. Inside the Nijo-jo compound there were actually 2 main buildings, the Ninomaru palace and the Honmaru Palace. 
details on the Kara-mon gate

Ninomaru Palace

i be flyyin like the birds

Across the outer moat

TIL: the roof ends are actually crests indicating the family/affiliation of the inhabitants. for the Imperial Palace its a 16 petaled chrysanthemum.

walking through Honmaru Gardens

Honmaru Gardens

Honmaru gardens and palace

Inside the Ninomaru palace the ceiling and walls were painted with vivid imagery, finished off with gold paint and filled with incredible detailing. One of my favorite parts about the building was the floors. The nightingale floors as they were called were specifically designed in such a way that when stepped on, would produce a small high pitched chirping sound, which alerted the inhabitants of movement and prevented any sneak attacks in case of infiltration.
interior painted screens. pic from
interior detailing. pic from
Pine tree motif screen painting. pic from
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pic from
one of the ceremonial rooms. pic from
Ceiling detail. pic from


After walking around the compound and gardens we decided to then go to the famed Kiyomuzudera Buddhist temple. Getting there was certainly not the easiest thing as you have to climb uphill for quite a while before reaching the temple gates. But the many shops selling souvenirs, delicacies and oddities certainly make the climb less painful. We kept on stopping every few metres to oooh and aaahhh at elegant fans, pretty purses, intricate kimonos etc. :p Once at the gate, you have to do a little bit more climbing up a few flights of stairs to get the actual temple.


more climbing to the gate

the gate! finally!

not sure if this was a beggar or what.

approach and climb

kimono yukata clad tourists

Kyoto~ 🙂

more stairs to the temple

Main approach to the temple grounds

we’re here!

sisters and partners in crime

prayer plaques maybe?

the magnificent view from up here

i wuz ‘ere

so was she

pavilion in the forest~

The place was crowded with tourists even though we went during non-peak season. Can’t imagine how thronged it would be during spring and autumn when the trees are all blossoming and full of color. from the temple we had a great view out to the entire Kyoto city and to the lush forested area where the temple was nestled. Stepping out onto the wooden stage is quite scary if you’re afraid of heights, because not only is it very high up with a straight drop, but the stage also looks like it’s going to fall off because its slanted slightly downwards. The entire temple was built without a single nail, and the columns system supporting the temple high off the hills was quite incredible.

tinkling bells welcomed us into the temple

more plaques

inside the temple


that’s the wooden stage out there

nampak je orang pakai kimono terus snap3..kimonos are so niiiice


At the foot of the temple there were these water fountains, from which the temple derived its name. (Kiyomizudera means Temple of Pure Water) People formed a long line to get a chance to drink from one of the three fountains, each with its own supposed benefit, such as long life, success, and a fortunate love life.
the three fountains down there
knick knacks otw down from the temple, along the main access road lined with so many tempting shops

attempt at kawaii-ness. fail

attempt at kawaii japanese pose. fail

scrum-dilly-dumptious matcha parfait with plenty of surprises under the cream and matcha

we didnt get to go to the Ghibli museum because the tix sold out…so we had to make do with the souvenir shops we found je

magical nook in a nondescript alley



ok la kawaii jadi sikit 🙂
Walking downhill from Kiyomuzudera we tried to find our way to the preserved streets of the Higashiyama district. We got lost after missing a turn but backtracked and it was definitely worth it. The streets were so quaint! we felt like we were walking through a movie set or theme park because it seemed so pristine and so cute!
Yasaka Pagoda i think…


such a charming place!

Beautiful street ^___^

doesn’t it feel like a movie set/theme park?


Japanese people are very into umbrellas. sold everywhere, and they’re so pretty too!

more ghibli goods

most delicious rice cracker i have ever ever eaten

happy shop keeper

wasabi rice cracker


cute purses made of traditional fabric with traditional print. 


neko art

ancient pathway

arrived at maruyama park and finding my way to Gion


At the end of the preserved streets we found ourselves at Maruyama Park, and passed through it to get to Gion, the Geisha district. 
Maruyama Park

worshippers at Yasaka shrine

i think these were like fortune papers

exiting Yasaka Shrine towards Gion

The main street in Gion is Hanami-koji, another preserved street just off the Shijo-dori shopping street, and we walked along slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) or maiko (Geiko apprentice) we walked alllll the way to the end of the road with no luck, and by this time our feet were screaming, so we decided to just sit down by the side of the road next to Gion corner (a sort of performance house for all the traditional Japanese performing arts including geiko dancing) and people watch, which was definitely interesting.

Entering Hanami-koji

traditional machiya house converted into a restaurant/ochaya (teahouse)

most of the restaurants here are very expensive, thus the doorman. A lot of the restaurants/ochaya have geiko/maiko performances, but they’d all be indoors

kawaii fail..

dusk falling
After a while we decided to get moving because it was starting to get dark. We were walking back up Hanami-koji towards Shijo-dori, busy fumbling with the camera, when suddenly a maiko appeared! She was walking out of the Gon corner and into the street. We were so excited and tried to get a picture of her but she walked so fast! I don’t know how they manage to walk in full costume and wearing wooden clogs and walking daintily but incredibly fast at the same time. Most of our pics of her ended up being blurry, but we were thrilled nonetheless 😀
at which point i squealed to munira “Maiko Mun! Maiko!”

we were trying to keep up but gosh darnit she can walk so fast!
noticed this funnily dressed man earlier, and turns out he’s like, a geisha stalker. once the maiko emerged he ran after her and pulled out his big camera and snapped away like a paparazzi hehe :p
We ended the day walking along Shijo-dori again, just window shopping and taking in the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of downtown Kyoto. We decided to have maggi for dinner at our hostel, to save on money, but since we didnt have lunch, we shared some takoyaki. (tip: ask for no soy sauce, as we were told later the soy sauce might not be halal)
Shijo-dori at dusk


fascinating machine making little idk whats. looked like some kind of dorayaki

party scooter
expenses for day 2: ~¥3600
bus pass: ¥500
Nijo-jo: ¥600
Kyomizudera: ¥300
Rice Cracker: ¥150
Lunch (Onigiri 2 each): ¥250
Parfait: ¥650
Souvenirs: ¥650

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