The Nijo Castle Japan Guide
Where to find the Nijo Castle
The Nijo-jo castle is a majestic castle complex located in Horikawa-nishi-iru. It is located in the Nakagyo-ku district of Kyoto City. Since Kyoto used to be the capital city of the ancient Japan, the city serves an important role in the country’s culture and history.
Known to be Japan’s most cultural city, Kyoto is home to hundreds of temples, castles, and other cultural structures which have been preserved from its glory days. Although it is true that the Nijo-jo castle is not the most popular cultural structure in Kyoto, it still has an important role in history.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto accepting thousands of persons visiting on a monthly basis. It is considered as one of the most Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and it has also been given a UNESCO World Heritage Site title.
Admission and Fees
Since maintenance of the large castle grounds does have an expense, the castle administration has decided to accept entry fees from their visitors. The cost of an adult ticket is 600 yen. Junior High and High school students have 350 yen tickets. Grade school students need to pay 200 yen. All students younger than this are usually free of charge. This ticket is good for a two-hour tour.
Opening Hours of the Nijo Castle
Just like all other tourist destinations in Japan, the Nijo-jo castle is closed once every week, the castle is usually closed to the public every Tuesdays. This is the time when the exhibits, the museums, and all other public areas in the castle are maintained. The administration of the castle has decided on this to ensure that the castle is well-preserved and its life will reach more generations of young Japanese, to teach them about the beauty of the culture and richness of the history of Japan.
The entire castle is also closed to the public during holidays which include the New Year. Normally, the castle grounds accepts visitors starting 8:30 AM and it closes at 5:00 PM with the last entry of visitors being 4:00 PM.
Transportation to the Nijo Castle
There are different ways to access the Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto. People can take the bus, walk from their hotels, or even take private cars to the castle. However, among the most convenient means of travel would be through riding trains.
This particular castle can be reached from different parts of the country via the Shinkansen, or the bullet train. All those wishing to travel to the castle can stop at the Kyoto Station. From here, a person can take the local subway known as the Tozai Subway line going to the Nijo-jo Mae station. Then there would only be a 5-minute walk to the castle.
Another way that the castle can be accessed is through the JR Kyoto Station. From here visitors can take the JR San-in line to the Nijo Station. From this station, a 10-minute walk to the castle will be sufficient.
The History of the Nijo Castle in Japan
This castle, in particular, was built for the first Shogunate of Japan known as Tokugawa Ieyasu. This man was Japan’s ruler from 1603 to 1616. According to written history, Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered contributions from all feudal lords of Japan. This is so that the construction of the Nijo-jo castle will be flawless.
The problem, on the other hand, was the fact that Tokugawa Ieyasu died before the castle was completed. In fact, the castle complex was only completed roughly 10 years after his death. Since then, it became the main Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa shogunate.
Although it remained under the possession of the Tokugawa shogunate, the castle complex remained unused for centuries. It was only in the late 1800s that it became a temporary seat of government. It is said that this is where Emperor Meiji fully abolished the powers of the Shogunate.
Nijo Castle in Japan’s Culture
Since the castle complex was constructed for the first Tokugawa shogunate, it is only apt to see lavish designs in furniture, architecture, and artwork. According to historians, the Nijo-jo castle is made up of different receiving chambers and waiting areas for visitors.
It is intended that these waiting areas are designed with impressive artwork because it is meant to show the beauty, wealth, and lavishness of the Tokugawa shogunate. The artworks which are used to design the walls, gates, doors, and entrances are all meant to impress visitors.
The Kano School of Painting is one of the oldest and most influential art schools in Japan. Artworks produced from this school are among the most popular pieces of the time. They usually depict flowers, landscapes, birds, and the like. These are usually drawn directly to the walls and doors instead of drawing them in simple rolled-up parchment.
What is most special about this artwork is the fact that the brush works, decorativeness, patterns and the like are almost life-like. It is also one of the first sets of artwork in Japan that used colored ink and other pigments. Most of the subjects are depictions of current events, nature, and the like.
The Nightingale floor
Nowadays, squeaky floors are a constant annoyance. However, this was an important anti-theft technology during the earlier Japanese times. What is special about the floors inside the Nijo Castle is the fact that quarters near important areas (like the shogun’s personal chamber) is equipped with what they call as nightingale floors. What is special about the castle is that it is well-equipped in the protection department. It is quite evident that the defense against intruders is well thought of.
Nightingale floors are wooden corridors that squeak when they are walked on. These places are lined (on both sides of the corridor) with chambers of body guards so they can keep watch of anyone walking around the palace. Once there are individuals approaching the chambers of the shogun, they will hear the floors creaking and they will immediately see any intruders.
The Tale of Two Palaces
The entire castle complex is composed of two fortifications which were built in the form of concentric rings. Each ring has a wall and a moat that serves as its primary means of protection. The two fortifications are known as the “Inner Ward” and the “Second Ward” respectively.
Also known as the “Second Ward” or the “Outer Ward’, this is the larger of the two fortifications. Its total land area is roughly 3,00 square meters and it is comprised of the different gardens. Since it is the “outer” ring, it is home to the guard house which is the mainstay of the guards and warriors protecting the castle.
Interestingly enough, this part of the castle is home to ancillary buildings such as the kitchens, reception areas, and the offices. Upon the analysis of the structures inside the Nimomaru Palace, the outer chambers serve as the receiving areas for low-ranking persons. This is the place nearest the guard house. This means that they are not allowed to enter the palace further than the chamber where they are received.
Then, the higher ranked officials will be received in the inner chambers. The inner most chamber of the Ninomaru Palace is the Shogun's personal chambers. It is said that only a limited number of people is allowed to enter this part of the palace.
The Honmoru Palace is known as the “Inner Ward”. This is known as the main circle of defense. It has a moat, a gate, and a wall of its own. It has an area of just about 1,600 square meters and is consisted of four different structures. These include living quarters of the shogun’s family, reception and entertainment areas, and a large kitchen.
However, this particular part of the castle complex has been destroyed throughout the decades. It was destroyed by fire in the late 1700s, a great fire that destroyed a great deal of Kyoto’s settlement.
Since it only consists of ruins, the Honmoru palace is not always open to visitors. This part of the castle complex is open only at certain times of the year where travelers could walk around the courtyard and enjoy the Honmoru’s beautiful gardens.
The Beautiful Gardens of the Nijo-jo
The entire complex consists of a land area of roughly 275,000 square meters. Out of this large piece of land, only about 8,000 square meters is occupied by structures, the rest are open spaces for gardens, courtyards, groves and the like. It is said that the castle boasts of different trees and flowers that bloom with the season, which means that the Nijo Castle is surrounded by different greeneries throughout the year.
The castle complex boasts of a large cherry-tree orchard that is consisted of roughly 400 trees. There is a multitude of varieties of trees which is why the blooming season in the castle complex lasts from March to April.
Looking like a park, there are walkways and paths that visitors can enjoy during the cherry blossom season. Families and friends can choose to celebrate Hanami in the castle grounds as long as they follow the rules, regulations, and opening schedules of the castle complex.
The place is so special during springtime that between 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, they hold night time illuminations or Cherry blossom nights. The lighting from the castle makes it even more majestic at this time of day, added to the beautiful lighting that features the blossoms from the cherry trees.
Admission rates usually cost around 400 Yen and people can stay and enjoy the hanami celebrations in the Nijo-jo castle grounds.
Before the cherry trees bloom in late March, visitors can enjoy other plants and greeneries along the castle grounds. Usually, between February and March, the plum trees in the castle’s gardens are in full bloom. During the time when the castle grounds was used as a home for the shogunate, they hold tea ceremonies in these plum orchards.
Other than the plum tree grove, there are also maple trees around the gardens which are very enjoyable during the autumn time. These trees give off a wonderful shade of red, orange, and brown which are warm colors of fall. This is best enjoyed during the late weeks of November.
After a full day of touring and travel around the city of Kyoto, it is best to just relax and enjoy nature. The Nijo-jo castle is home to thousands of square meters worth of gardens. There are a number of attractive flowers and plants around these gardens. There are also ponds where people can feed the ducks and the koi fish. These are best for picnics, pictorials, and meditation activities.
From its name, the green garden is made up of shrubs and flowering bushes. It is best to visit these gardens during the spring time and summer time. However, the fall season usually transforms the green-garden into a wave of browns, reds, oranges, and yellow. This gives off a warmth in contrast to the cold climate.
Gates and Entrances in Nijo-jo
There are different ways to enter the Nijo-jo castle, especially since the land area that the complex covers are so large. It is important to note that although there are four major gates to the entire castle complex, there is only one way in which is through one of the largest gates.
The main point of entry would be the Great Eastern Gate or the Higashi-Ote-mon. other access points include the Southern gate or the Minami-mon, the Great North gate or the Kita-ote-mon and the west gate or the Nishi-mon.
All the gates of the castle are traditional and are styled to look majestic. Just like the artwork on the walls of the waiting chambers, the gates are meant to impress newly arriving visitors. This is why the architectural designs of the gates are often elaborate. The woodworks of the gates are impeccable and intricately designed.