The Castle was built upon the order of the 1st Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) in 1603. It was completed during the reign of the 3rd shogun, Iemitsu, in 1626. The Castle served as the Tokugawa shogunate’s center of power in Kyoto.
Teamed with the dramatic, stormy skies that day, Nijo Castle appeared like it came right out of a samurai movie. I could almost envision ninjas darting across roofs in a silent attempt to assassinate some officials. This white building, found at the corners of the Nijo Castle, is probably where guards would station themselves to look out for possible attacks.
A wide moat surrounds the Nijo Castle and a tall wall acts as fortification for those turbulent times. I entered by the Higashiotemon (東大手門). Entry fee is ¥600.
Right after you entered the Great Eastern Gate, you will be greeted by this glass-enclosed display of a scene right off Japan’s feudal era.
A little walk around the corner and you are greeted by Japan’s National Treasure and an UNESCO World Heritage Site – Ninomaru Castle (二の丸御殿 Ninomaru goten). It is extremely well-preserved, with most of its original form intact from a city-wide fire in 1788.
The visiting hours for the Ninomaru Palace is between 9am to 4pm.
Be it near or from afar, one can really marvel at how well the Japanese preserve this monument from corroding or catching fire in the summer. The Palace is built entirely out of Hinoki cypress and as time passes, the wood has gotten really dark. The elaborate wood carving and lavish gold-leaf trimmings suggest the majesty of the Shogun residence and the intricate woodwork of the craftsmen in that era.
The usual applies when you enter a conservation site or shrine, what’s more a National Treasure and UNESCO site, remove your shoes and leave all wet umbrellas out. Sadly, no photography or videography is allowed. I would love to have take a video or recording of the amazing “nightingale floors” (鴬張りuguisubari) of Ninomaru Palace, and share it with all of you. Instead, allow me to share this video on YouTube, which I think sounded the closest.
You must be thinking…why is this amazing? Imagine many people walking across these floorboards, and what you hear are soft, melodious chirping. Nothing like squeaking mice. Just birds singing in a tranquil afternoon walk in the garden. They can be distinctly heard too, especially when fellow visitors in the Palace are respectfully quiet.
According to the explanations that I’ve read within the Palace, the Shoguns built this flooring, which separates the outer doors (as above) from the inner ring of doors, to prevent assassins (or ninjas) from penetrating into the inner rooms of the Palace. Alert guards (or samurai) would hide behind closed doors, which they would slide swiftly open to capture any assassin who dared step on those singing floors. pling thinks…it was pretty ingenious of them to think of this mechanism that ‘sings while it protects’.
After you exit Ninomaru Palace, do not leave just yet. Take a walk around the vast garden of Nijo Castle, and let your imagination run wild. I had some fun thinking how Shoguns, samurais, guards, and maidens might have lived during those ancient times.
How to get to Nijo Castle
Entry Fees ¥600
Open 9am – 4pm
Closed on Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug and Dec and Dec 26 – Jan 4
- From Kyoto Station Bus terminal – Bus numbers 9, 50 or 100 (15-20 mins)
- From Shijo Street (Shijo-Kawaramachi bus stop) – Bus number 12 (15 mins)
- From Kyoto Station, take the JR Sagano line (Platform 32, 33) to the Nijō Station (二条駅). Cross the road of Senbon-dori (千本通）and walk along Oike-dori (御池通), and turn left after you passed Shinsen-en.
- You can also take the Tozai Line and alight at Nijojomae Station.