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Founded in AD 790 and dedicated to the 11-headed Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy whose statue can be seen here, the existing buildings were erected after 1633 in the period of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, and stand mainly on a rocky outcrop high above the Otowa Waterfall.
Highlights include the large terrace of the Main Hall, built on 30-meter-tall pillars with five rows of cross-beams and used as a stage for temple dances and ceremonies.
The site's most important building is Ninomaru Palace consisting of five separate buildings linked by corridors, and with exquisite interiors decorated with paintings by Kano Tanyu and his pupils.
The principal apartment is the Hall of the Imperial Emissary (Jodan-no-ma), matched in splendor by the adjoining rooms, Ni-no-ma and Tozamurai-no-ma with their paintings of tigers.
Taking its name from the gold leaf adorning the top two of its three floors - a design element believed to alleviate any negativity associated with death - the structure has been rebuilt in its original form a number of times, this most recent incarnation dating from the late 1950s.
Built over a large pond, the site is also famous for its beautiful grounds, as well as its old stone pagoda and the Sekkatei Tea House with its traditionally served beverages.
Nijo Castle, complete with walls, towers, and a moat, was built in 1603 and later served as the seat of government.
While the lovely grounds of this Kyoto landmark are open to the public, the palace itself can only be visited as part of a guided tour operated by the Imperial Household Agency (check their website for details and application forms).
The chief temple of the original Jodo-shinshu sect, Nishi Honganji Temple is an outstanding example of Buddhist architecture.
Surrounded by the hills of central Honshu, Kyoto is one of Japan's largest cities and the educational hub of western Japan with several universities and higher educational establishments.
Although one of Japan's great tourist destinations, it has managed to preserve much of the atmosphere of the past, having been the only major Japanese city to escape the devastation of WWII.