D5 – Kyoto Exchange – Nijo Castle

After the assembly we were scheduled to go and see Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo). I felt bad for some of the girls having to walk as much as we did in their heels and skirts. Next year we will need to have a chance for the students to change back into some street clothes for the rest of the day, or combine the assembly with the classroom time.

Nijo is a Japanese castle and is surrounded by water. The grounds are expansive and spread out over multiple gardens and buildings. This castle was the real deal complete with nightingale floors in the main buildings. 

This is the main entrance to the castle grounds. There were many groups of students visiting this day. This was also the hottest day of our visit, reaching into the mid 80’s.

You have to keep your eyes open when touring the castle grounds because you never know what you might see, and where it might be.

The gardens around the castle and surrounding area are immaculately maintained.

Crossing the moat we saw hundreds of huge koi swimming around under the bridge. I would have loved to have brought even a single one of these magnificent fish back to the states for my koi pond.

When we got all the way in the back of the castle grounds we were able to go up on the wall and look back at all that we had just toured. We took a break up here and evaluated what we wanted to do with the rest of the day. Downtown Kyoto can be seen in the distance of this picture.

We had plans to go to another temple after Nijo, but the students were hungry for something new. After polling everyone we decided it would be fun to go downtown, have lunch by the river, do some shopping and then maybe get in some playtime at an arcade. So we were off to make our way back through the castle grounds to find a bus downtown.

Every part of the castle grounds were amazing and filled with things to see.

I was so amazed with all the blooming trees that I had my son snap a picture of me under one of them to send to my wife via email. I didn’t want to leave these ground so quickly, I could have spent at least another hour here exploring all the hidden gardens we didn’t get time to see.  But I was far outnumbered by the kids wanting to head downtown.

We were still discussing exactly what we were going to do and see once we got downtown while riding the bus from Nijo to the downtown area.  A few of the students had been taken downtown by their host families and were offering suggestions.  One thing was sure, we were not going to split up downtown. 

Once we arrived, it was like Déjà vu. The students with bento lunches headed to the river to eat while the others stopped at McDonald’s to snag some American food. The weather was turning on us as the clouds started to roll in and the temperature continued to drop. There were people fishing from the banks of the river, and a few eagles were diving down and snagging fish (more than the fishermen).

We were surprised to find homeless tents under the bridge in downtown Kyoto. They were very clean and well constructed of blue tarp material. We had to take a picture from a distance, as our teacher escort said it would be rude to take a picture up close. Bikes were parked next to these shelters.

Downtown was more like San Francisco than Tokyo. It had many stores and the students found more than enough to snap up for their families and themselves as souvenirs.


And of course, they found an arcade almost as soon as we left the river area where we had eaten our lunch.

This was a huge multistory arcade building with different themes on the different floors. It was difficult getting them to leave, but not before snapping a picture for Twitter down on the first floor.

After the arcade the students went in search of deals on clothes, shoes and electronics.

We saw row after row of bicycles in the downtown area. They were obviously the transport of choice in this area of town.

When our time was up we had to find a bus back to the school so the students wouldn’t be late getting home to their host families for dinner.  Our teacher escort was very glad to finally have everyone on the bus and heading back to the school after our unplanned detour.


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