Inside the castle walls is Ninomaru Palace, which is open to visitors. Definitely built to impress, the entire building is covered in elaborate wood carvings, gold leaf, beautiful paintings, and various other decorations. Of course, in addition to showing off their wealth and power, the Shoguns were also a notoriously paranoid bunch. Not only is the castle heavily fortified, with many of the rooms in the palace containing secret panels for bodyguards, but my personal favorite feature are the so-called "nightingale floors." Created as a sort of early-warning system for intruders, the floors in the palace are intentionally noisy, making a birdlike sound as you walk on them. Wandering shoeless through the dimly-lit halls of the palace, accompanied by the sounds of a softly squeaking floor, it's not so difficult to imagine yourself back to when Nijo was used for defensive purposes.
In addition to sightseeing, we also had a great time browsing through many of the old shops in Kyoto. And when I say that the shops are old, I'm talking about some of them being in the same family for generations. Just like Saiun-do, the painting supply store shown above. This one-room shop was built in 1863 by Tsukio Fujimoto, a painter whose friends urged him to sell the special pigments and other necessary supplies that he used in his own work. Today, Tsukio Fujimoto's great-grandson continues his family's legacy. Even though the light was off in the shop when we stopped by, Fujimoto-san was happy to re-open and show off his store for us, and Patrick was happy to purchase some handmade brushes and sumi ink. Other interesting, old stores that we wandered into were Naito, a broom store that has been run by the same family since 1869, Okutan, a tofu restaurant that has served its special recipe for yudafu for 13 generations, and many of the traditional ceramic shops of Gojozaka.
A few more on flickr.