Attraction 541 Nijojocho Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301 Japan Published on: 28-02-2016
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Why Nijo Castle is special ?
Nijo-jo Castle is one of Kyoto’s most popular and impressive sights. It shows the power that the Shoguns wielded over the emperors throughout the Edo Period. With huge stone walls surrounded by deep moats, Nijo-jo Castle graphically demonstrates the power that the Shoguns (military warlords) wielded over Japan for much of its history. Unlike the more famous Himeji-jo Castle in Himeji, which soars skyward, somewhat in the manner of European castles, Nijo-jo Castle is characterized by low but nonetheless imposing and grand structures, all of which are surrounded by gorgeous gardens. You can enter the Ninomaru Palace, which is famous for its “nightingale floors” (squeaky floors that would alert occupants to the presence of intruders). The decorative panels and carvings here – almost rococo in their flamboyance – reflect the enormous power and attitudes of the warlords who occupied the castle. After touring the Ninomaru Palace, take a leisurely stroll through the wonderful Seiryu-en Garden, which surrounds the buildings of the castle. The only downside to this wonderful complex is that it’s on everyone’s “must-see” list, and it’s often packed with hoards bus tourists and Japanese school students out on school excursions. Try to beat the crowds by going just after opening.
What to explore at Nijo Castle?
Nijo Castle Fortifications
The Nijō Castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, both consisting of a wall and a wide moat. There is also a much simpler wall surrounding the Ninomaru Palace. The outer wall has three gates while the inner wall has two. In the southwest corner of the inner wall the are the foundations of a five-storey keep, destroyed by a fire in 1750. The inner walls contain the Honmaru Palace with its garden. Between the two main rings of fortifications are located the Ninomaru Palace, Kitchens, Guard House and several gardens.
The 3300 square meter Ninomaru Palace is built almost entirely of Hinoki cypress. The decoration includes lavish quantities of gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings, intended to impress visitors with the power and wealth of the shoguns. The sliding doors and walls of each room are decorated with wall paintings by artists of the Kanō school.
The castle is an excellent example of social control manifested in architectural space. Low-ranking visitors were received in the outer, more gaudy regions of the Ninomaru, whereas high-ranking visitors were shown the more subtle inner chambers. Rather than attempt to conceal the entrances to the rooms for bodyguards (as was done in many castles), the Tokugawas chose to display them prominently. Thus, the construction lent itself to expressing intimidation and power to Edo-period visitors.
The building houses several different reception chambers, offices and the living quarters of the shogun, where only female attendants were allowed. One of the most striking features of Nijō Castle are the "nightingale floors" in the corridors. To protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins, the builders constructed the floors of the corridors in such a way as to squeak like birds when anyone walks on them.
Some of the rooms in the castle also contained special doors where the emperor's bodyguard could come out and protect him.
The Honmaru Palace has a surface area of 1600 square meters. The complex has four parts: Living quarters, reception and entertainment rooms, entrance halls and kitchen area. The different areas are connected by corridors and courtyards. The architectural style is late Edo period. The palace displays paintings by several famous masters, such as Kanō Eigaku.
The Honmaru Palace was originally known as the Katsura Palace before relocated to the present site and renamed. Originally the palace had 55 buildings, but only a small part was relocated.
Nijo Castle Gardens
The castle area has several gardens and groves of cherry and ume trees. The Ninomaru garden was designed by the famous landscape architect and tea master Kobori Enshu. It is located between the two main rings of fortifications, next to the palace of the same name. The garden has a large pond with three islands and features numerous carefully placed stones and topiary pine trees.
The Seiryū-en garden is the most recent part of the whole Nijō Castle. It was constructed in 1965 in the northern part of the complex. It is intended as a facility for the reception of official guests of the city of Kyoto and as a venue for cultural events. Seiryū-en has two tea houses and more than 1000 carefully arranged stones.
How to get to Nijo Castle?
The entrance of Nijo Castle is a short walk from Nijojo-mae Station along the Tozai Subway Line.
From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. The whole trip takes about 15-20 minutes and costs 260 yen. Alternatively, the castle can be reached from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101 (15-20 minutes, 230 yen one way) or from Shijo-Kawaramachi by Kyoto City Bus number 12 (15 minutes, 230 yen one way).
541 Nijojocho Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301 Japan
Nijo Castle is protected by 2 concentric rings of fortified walls made by cut stones of various sizes and wide moats. The inner ring contained Ninomaru palace which is open for public viewing, Honmaru palace and huge garden with a large Japanese-landscape pond. Ninomaru palace consists of few buildings connected by corridors of 'nightingale' wooden flooring which squeaks when one walks on it. This is to protect occupants from sneak attacks by intruders. The inner walls, sliding panels and ceiling are extensively decorated with paintings( some with gold leaf) and carvings. Honmaru wasn't open to public viewing. There are various species of trees found in the castle ground, namely cherry blossoms and ume(plum). Ume was in full bloom at that time. Tourists with school going children can purchase discounted ticket for them. This is the case at most tourists attractions. Be prepared to spent up to 2 hours here especially during cherry blossoms.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nijo Castle grounds contain the Ninomaru Palace and Gardens and other cultural treasures. Easily accessed from Nijojomae Subway station. English guides available.
Although I haven't visited enough castles to make a comparison, this one is awesome just by being one of Tokugawa's residence (Edo Castle was their main residence). Oh, and it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission was 600y adults, 350y junior high/high school students, and 200y primary school students. They're open 8:45a - 5:00p (4:00p last ticket sale), but the Ninomaru Palace viewing hours are 9:00a - 4:00p. They're closed every Tuesday in January, July, August, and December (the following day is closed if that Tuesday falls on a public holiday), as well as the New Year period (12/26 - 1/4). My daughter and I came here on a Tuesday around 11:30a or so, and it wasn't that crowded yet. Everything from the Karamon Gate to Ninomaru Palace to the moat and garden were amazing in structure and design. I simply admire all the people who had a hand in building this beautiful and intricate landmark. The Ninomaru Palace was huge with many rooms (33 rooms total!). We had to take off our shoes at the entrance, and photos were prohibited inside. Certain hallways had squeaking floors called Nightingale floors that were intentionally made that way to alert the residents of any intruders. So cool. We also walked around the garden area, and climbed up the stone foundation of the former castle keep where we got a nice view of the castle grounds and moat. Most of the cherry blossoms haven't blossomed yet when we were there, but a few of the weeping cherry blossoms were in full bloom and they were so pretty!