Without a doubt, Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) was the most stunningly beautiful structure I saw during my visit to Kyoto and Nara. It was originally constructed in 1393 as the retirement home of Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga and later bequeathed to a Buddhist sect for use as a temple. The three-story pavilion is situated on the edge of a reflective pond and originally the third floor was covered in gold leaf.
The pavilion was destroyed in 1950 when set afire by a deranged student-monk (who later became the subject of a novel by the famous Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, before his own later derangement). The pavilion was rebuilt in 1955 following the original design and this time the top two stories were covered in gold, as Ashikaga had originally intended.
Nishi-Honganji (Western Temple) and Higashi-Honganji (Eastern Temple) were once part of the same temple complex, but were separated in the early 17th century as a rift developed between factions of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. Although both temples are on busy Kyoto streets, once inside the walls one enters a surprisingly serene environment.
Nijojo (Nijo Castle), the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns, was built in 1603 to emphasize the shift in power from the emperor (who retained official, but largely ceremonial, power) to the military shoguns (who wielded the real power). The castle is known for its beautiful gardens and also for its use of "singing" floorboards – wooden flooring designed to squeak when walked upon to prevent traitors from sneaking up on those inside.