Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nijo-jo... A Castle in Waiting...

23rd October, 2006 - We had one major destination today... Nijo-jo... the Tokugawa "castle" within Kyōto. It's not a castle, in the typical Japanese sense (the 5 storied donjon was burnt down in 1750, and not re-built). indeed, I'd be inclined to call it a walled villa these days. It is however an important cultural centre of the city - though the Tokugawa influence was largely exerted on Kyōto from a distance.

 Nijō castle (Nijō-jo) was constructed by Ieyasu Tokugawa after his success at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Historically, it was Ieyasu’s powerbase in Kyōto, when he was away from his Kanto homeland. He was proclaimed as the Shogun here in 1603, during his first stay at the partially completed castle. Visits to Kyōto became increasingly rare however as Edo (unofficially) took over the role of capital. He did not return until 1611.

His successor used the castle again in 1624-26 though no Shogun came to Kyōto again from 1634 until 1863 (the sunset of the Tokugawa era). Nijō-jo is however more ceremonial than castle-like, with minimal defences. As such it was meant to impress by opulence rather than by sheer brute force.

The main building within the castle grounds is now the Ninomaru Palace (below). The Palace actually consists of five buildings, each of which was lavishly decorated, and each progressively higher as they move to the inner sanctums of shogun’s world. The first, outer, rooms are decorated more with fearsome (martial) motifs, whilst the inner rooms are decorated in more soothing sophisticated patterns.

The Ninomaru Palace is also famous for it’s nightingale floors which are designed in such a way (sophisticated cantilevered woodwork) as to squeak when walked upon. Unfortunately no cameras allowed inside the palace. The floors - well they do indeed squeak... We should rememeber just how old this building is - and how amazing the craft involved. It would be interesting to imagine the household members sneaking off for a bit of no-good in the quiet of the night.

The gardens of Ninomaru, which are over an acre in size, date back to 1624, and were designed for an imperial visit. Originally the garden was intended to remain unchanged through the seasons, and thus was originally without trees.

Nowadays however, it is based on popular go-round style. The garden centerpiece is a quarter-acre-sized pond, containing three islands – though it was thought to have originally been intended as a dry pond.

The gardens are not spectacular in the sense of many of the gardens in Kyōto, but they have a quiet solidity that suggests permanence and not having to be unduly flashy.

The complex has a double moat; the Ninomaru Palace is the centre-piece of the outer region, and the Honmaru Palace the same for the inner region. 

As Ieyasu had done previously he had elements of his predecessor (Hideyoshi) - including his buildings - dismantled and re-located. Hideyoshi’s Fushimi-jo furnished many of the temples and landmarks around the city with outstanding "additions", including Nijō-jo.

As mentiond, the donjon (or central keep) was destroyed in 1750 when struck by lightning, and the Palace was subsequently burnt down in 1788. The present Honmaru Palace (below) dates from 1847, and was actually the residence of Prince Katsura from Kyōto Gosho which was moved in 1893 when the Imperial family moved to Tōkyō.

I called it the Castle in Waiting - for about 230 years it was a castle without it's lord...Indeed the shogun's return was simply to resign the power of Japan back to the Imperial throne in 1867, dismantling forever the power of the Tokugawa line.

Atop the outcropping, you get a good view of the grounds of Nijō-jo and city beyond. It's not what we had imagined, but was definitely a good experience (though it had been a few spots of rain). I loved the gardens, and it was fun walking inside the Ninomaru Palace with those famous nightingale floors... crying out for their long gone masters, destined never to return.

Posted by Picasa


  1. Great photos, I've forgotten how beautiful this place is. The photo of the castle's roof decorations is great.

  2. Thnx... it's a nice place with a different feel to many of the highlight locations of Kyoto. I'd always be happy to go back to places like this.

  3. This is definitely on my list of places that I want to visit when I finally visit Japan.