Do you dream of drifting through the past? Would you love to walk among famous national treasures? Japan cruises can afford you unique glimpses into Japanese culture, offering visits to such sights as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and Ishiyama-dera Temple. Japan's vibrant history is written in the stones of each of these historic relics, telling the tale of the rise and fall of empires and religions.
Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, was constructed by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397 as part of a grander complex. When the shogun died, Kinkaku-ji was turned into a Zen Buddhist temple — a wish made as part of his will. One of Kyoto's most famous attractions today, the temple remained intact until 1950, when it was burned down by a Buddhist monk. Its reconstruction in 1955 modeled the original design, including its three stories that represent three styles of architecture: the Chamber of Dharma Waters, modeled after 11th-century Heian mansions in the Shinden style; the Tower of Sound Waves, built in the samurai style; and the Zen-style Cupola of the Ultimate, which houses relics of the Buddha. The gold-leaf exterior, also part of the original design, is meant to purify negative thoughts about death. Enjoy the stunning effect of the gold leaf when the sun hits, and take in the calming atmospheres of the still pond nearby. Then saunter through the peaceful strolling garden that surrounds the golden pavilion.
Located in Kyoto and considered an important UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo Castle is known for its intricate gardens. It was completed in 1626, 25 years after Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the last feudal military government in Japan, demanded contributions to the project from every feudal lord of western Japan. Built as a residence for the Tokugawa shogunate, the castle required fortifications to protect its important government leaders, including two concentric circles of walls and a moat. The castle's grounds are lush with beautiful gardens and a host of fruit trees. Walk among the grounds and through the castle, hear the creak of the "nightingale" floors (special floorboards that squeak when walked upon, designed to alert the shogun to intruders), and view the centuries-old woodcarvings and paintings that hang inside the palace on your visit.
A center for Shingon Buddhism, Ishiyama-dera (Stony Mountain Temple), located in the modern city of Otsu, was founded in the mid-eighth century by Buddhist monk Roben Sojyo under Emperor Shomu's command. The temple is famously known as the alleged birthplace of the novel The Tale of Genji (sometimes referred to as the world's first novel), written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. According to legend, Murasaki was mused by the full moon in the night sky. The temple's Hondo (main worship hall) is the oldest building in the Shiga Prefecture. Here, you can bask in a preserved past that has survived for more than 1,200 years in this sacred place.
Drift backward into history as you embark on Japan cruises, and you'll come home enriched by each diverse cultural excursion you experience.