The lavishly decorated Nijo Castle is a wonderful example of Japanese Momoyama architecture and was a symbol of the power and authority of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was built in 1603 as the official residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu and enlargement was completed in 1626 by the third Shogun Iemitsu. An interesting aspect about Nijō Castle is the fact that pieces of another castle have ended up being incorporated into it. The main Tower and karamon(gate) of Fushimi Castle was moved to Nijō Castle in 1625 during the completion of construction. In 1939 Nijo Castle was donated to the City of Kyoto by the Imperial family and has been open to the public ever since. The castle is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” which comprises of 17 locations in three cities.
The Ninomaru Palace, still survives to this day in its original form and is one of the reasons Nijo Castle is famous for its Momoyama architecture. The palace consists of five connected building built nearly entirely of Hinoki cypress and lavishly decorated with gold leaf and intricate wood carvings. One of the most unique features of the palace are the “nightingale floors” in the corridors which were constructed in a way that makes them squeak like birds when people walk on them. This was done to protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins; some of the rooms even had special doors that the shogun’s bodyguard could use to protect him. Ninomaru Palace housed a variety of reception chambers and offices, as well as the living quarters of the shogun. The Honmaru Palace was Nijō’s five story castle tower and has not been as lucky through the years. The original structure was destroyed in a city-wide fire in 1788 and sat empty for over a hundred years until 1893 when it was replaced by a Katsura Palace which was moved from Kyoto Imperial Palace. The architectural style of this building dates to the late Edo period and it has on display paintings by several famous masters. The complex is split into four sections: living quarters, reception & entertainment rooms, entrance halls and the kitchen area. All the areas are connected by an assortment of corridors and courtyards.
Nijo Castle has several gardens as well as cherry and ume tree groves on its grounds. The most famous is the Ninomaru garden that was designed by famous landscape architect Kobori Enshu and features a large magnificent pond with three islands. The Seiryū-en garden is the newest addition to the castle, added in 1965 it is used to receive official guests of the city of Kyoto as well as a venue for cultural events held throughout the year. Admission to Nijō Castle will run you less than $10 and it’s open from 8:45am until 5pm (last admission 4pm). The castle is closed on Tuesdays during January, July, August and December as well as December 26th through January 4th. Be sure to bring plenty of film and/or batteries with you because Nijo Castle, with its beautiful foliage and distinctive architecture, is full of wonderful photo opportunities.
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