I woke up on our final day in Japan at the crack of dawn, glued to the sheets of a hotel bed and wishing this trip could go on forever. Flying home is always the bittersweet rollercoaster of emotions that comes at the end of every journey in life. Having spent my vacation time over the past four years on treks and outdoor adventures, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d adjust to a city based holiday. After ten days in Japan, I knew in my heart that this trip was the perfect adventure for the circumstances. Initially, Julia and I had planned on going to Patagonia to hike the W circuit. As life would have it, she became pregnant just before we booked our tickets. With the scare of the Zika virus buzzing through the news, we decided it wasn’t a good idea to take a chance. For a pregnant women, Japan turned out to be the perfect country to vacation in. The bathrooms are clean and plentiful, the food is prepared to perfection, and the people are incredibly kind and gracious. On top of all that, the culture, sites, and landscapes have a history and feel like nothing I had ever seen before. With the feelings of gratitude and appreciation from our time spent in Japan roiling to a crescendo, we left our hotel to grab one final breakfast and see our final site in Kyoto, the historic Nijo Castle.
Nijo Castle was built as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo period in 1603. The castle is divided into three sections, with a primary circle of defense, a secondary circle of defense, and a circle of gardens that encapsulate both. Our visit started on the east side after passing through the Karamon Gate and into the secondary circle of defense. The main attraction of Ninomaru Palace is located right when visitors pass through the Karamon Gate. The palace is in excellent condition, and for the most part, in it’s original form. The complex of painted rooms with tatami mats was like walking back in time. One of the rooms had mannequin characters to display what a meeting would look like when the shogun met with his feudal lords. The cedar plank floors creaked with every step. This is something that usually connotes age and maturation in a building, but it’s intentional in the palace, devised as an extra security measure. One of my favorite elements in Japanese architecture, especially in this feudal era, is the use of expanding spaces through the use of simple sliding doors. My favorite room was painted from left to right and illustrated the path of life through the four seasons.
After visiting Ninomaru Palace, we made our way outside to walk through the Ninomaru Garden.
From Ninomaru Garden we made our way out of the secondary defense circle and into the primary defense circle. There are a series of beautiful gardens in this primary defense circle, as well as stairs to climb the foundation of the former castle keep.
I was amazed at how much open green space there was within the castle walls. Although we just missed full cherry blossom season, we did get to see a few trees in bloom.
As the time grew closer to noon, Julia and I had to make our way back to the hotel to check out. It was difficult to know that this was the last thing we’d get to explore in Japan, but we couldn’t have asked for a better place to end things. In my years of travel and exploration, I try not to visit a place I’ve already been. I’m going to have to make an exception for Japan. This country captured my heart. I consider this trip a primer, a walkthrough to see what is possible. There is so much yet to be explored, and I can’t wait to come back to see it all.