A Must Visit Spot
Nijo-jo Castle is a very nice place to visit. It has a huge ground (second largest in central Kyoto next to Kyoto Imperial Garden) and it consists of three major areas. Area 1 is called "Honmaru" (inner citadel), area 2 is "Ninomaru" (outer citadel) and area 3 is a beautiful garden encircling Honmaru and Ninomaru. A lot of walking, but it is worth walking around on a sunny day.
Beautiful Japanese Paintings in Ninomaru
The main feature of Nijo-jo Castle is Ninomaru which was originally Honmaru when the castle was founded by Ieyasu Tokugawa (earlier Shogun) in 1603. In Ninomaru, there are as many as 3,000 sliding door panels with beautiful Japanese paintings by the artists of Kano school led by Tanyu Kano. About 1,000 of them are designated as national important cultural assets. Ninomaru has three main rooms and two separate chambers. The front of Ninomaru is a carriage porch, and as you enter into the building, you will walk through the following three rooms.
- Toosamurai Room: Anteroom for retainers
- Shikidai-no-Ma Room: Reception room for feudal lords to meet "Roju", Shogun's senior councils
- Oo-Hiroma: Grand room where feudal lords had an audience with Shogun
After these chambers, you are approaching two separate chambers connected by corridors.
- Kuro-Shoin: Reception rooms where Shogun met feudal lords more personally
- Shiro-Shoin: Shogun's living quarters. It was actually a Shogun's harem with his wife and concubines where no guys except for Shogun were allowed to come in.
Nightingale Singing Floors
The wooden floors of the hallways are so-called "Nightingale Singing Floors". When someone walks on the floor, chirping sounds are generated, just like Nightingales are singing. The floors were deliberately designed that way as a security alarm system to discourage intruders to sneak into the building. The frictions between the L-shaped brackets supporting floorboards and the nails by which the brackets are anchored to the beams under the floors generate the unique sounds. This security method was deployed at some other places including Chion-in Temple, Daikaku-ji Temple, etc.
Transitions of the Castle
Current Honmaru (inner citadel) was built in 1626 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the 3rd Shogun after Ieyasu Tokugawa, when the original Honmaru was renamed to Ninomaru (outer citadel). Five-story castle tower and residential buildings were constructed inside Honmaru surrounded by the inner moat, but both the castle tower and the residential quarters there were burnt down by lightnings. What we can see now are the stone foundation of the castle tower and a relatively new building called "Honmaru Palace" which was relocated from Imperial Palace in 1893 to be a temporary residence of Princess Kazunomiya who was married to Iemochi Tokugawa, the 14th Shogun. She was the first Princess married to Tokugawa clan - a shogunate family which ruled Japan over centuries. FYI, current Honmaru Palace is not publicly open, except for special open house events.
The gardens of Honmaru and Ninomaru are just gorgeous - I especially like the garden in Ninomaru. It is a promenade style garden with a pond in the center. There is the other beautiful garden called "Seiryu-en", but it is not publicly open and I have never been there. Outer garden encircling Honmaru and Ninomaru is good to walk around. In spring time, you can see beautiful Cherry blossoms. In autumn, Japanese Maple trees with leaves turning scarlet. There are Japanese Plum trees (beautiful blossoms in winter time), too.
Although Nijo-jo Castle ground is huge, there are tons of tourists every day filling up the ground, especially at the weekends and peak seasons (spring and autumn). If you are planning to visit there, make sure to go early in the morning (around 9:00 am).
Recommended Lunch Spot
FYI, ANA Crown Plaza Hotel located right in front of the castle across Horikawa st. has a buffet restaurant "Cozy" (075-231-1155). All you can eat lunch is Yen 3,000 (Kids: Yen 2,000). They have a really nice mix of foods (Japanese & Western), and the quality of foods is superb. Reservations ahead of time are recommended. A bit pricey, but it won't disappoint you. From time to time, they offer online coupons by which you can enjoy lunch buffet at lower price (Yen 2,700 including tax) - online coupon can be downloaded from Japanese website only, though. If you dine there and spend more than Yen 2,000, the parking is free for 4 hours ! Great deal considering the parking at Nijo-jo Castle is Yen 800 for 2 hours.
Brief History of the Castle
Again, Nijo-jo Castle was originally built in 1603 by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun (top of Samurai). Many of the feudal lords in western Japan were hired to construct the castle which was intended for guarding Imperial Palace (less than a mile away) and also for a villa for Ieyasu during his stay in Kyoto. In ancient times, castles used to be built on top of the mountains to be robust against enemy attacks, but as the territories of feudal loads and the surrounding castle towns became larger, castles began to be built on flatland in consideration of efficiency and economy. Osaka-jo Castle (located in Osaka) was the first one on flatland, and Nijo-jo Castle was the 2nd.
- In 1626, Iemitsu, the 3rd Shogun, constructed inner moated Honmaru in which five-story castle tower and new living quarters were built, but these were burnt down by lightnings.
- In 1867, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last Shogun, declared "Taisei-Hokan" (restoration of Imperial rule) and the ownership of the castle was changed to Imperial family and it was renamed to "Nijo-Rikyu" (Nijo Detached Palace).
- In 1939, Nijo-Rikyu was granted to City of Kyoto and was publicly open in 1940 as its original name (Nijo-jo Castle).
- In 1994, Nijo-jo Castle was registered as a World Heritage Site.