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Nijo Castle

Listed under Castles & Palaces in Kyoto, Japan.

  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
  • Photo of Nijo Castle
Photo of Nijo Castle
Photo by flickr user pokpok313
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If you don't know a lot about Japanese feudal history before you get to Kyoto you'll learn a lot before leaving. One of the most basic things you'll pick up on is that the Shoguns lived fairly nice lives when they weren't involved in wars or life threatening court intrigues. Nijo Castle would have been a lovely place to live. Its generous, regular shaped rooms lead on to wide corridors with big screen windows which would have let in plenty of light and breeze, it has high roofs with ornate designs carved into them and panels with very very lovely designs painted on them, some done in the 17th century, most of them featuring idyllic outdoor scenes which have then been replicated in perfect miniature in the gardens outside.

A double moat protects the inner residence and there are two walls as well. The outer gate is guarded by a sentry house and you have to turn a corner to enter the slightly more delicately designed palace gate – if you can say that about a gate built to repel samuri.

The design of the actual villa was considered lavish by the standards of the time but it's anything but gaudy or ornate. Gold leaf is used but the designs are minimalist, as is the flooring – wood or tatami mats – and even the intricate carvings are in understated patterns. While the best of European castle architecture looks like it may have been uncomfortable to live in – imagine relaxing round Versailles...'cause I can't – this palace villa would have been light, airy and pleasant. There isn't any furniture on display, but there are dressed dummies in a couple of rooms showing the shogun and his entourage at work and play. It's a practical place, with big cupboards for hiding your body guards in and whole rooms put aside for the storage of the weaponry of visiting war lords and their staff, but the most practical, and entertaining for the visitor, feature is the 'nightingale floor', laid in such a way so as to make an orchestras worth of sounds when walking the halls. It's like an early form of security: you can tell from the sounds where everyone in the castle is and which direction they're moving in, so no one is creeping up on anyone, and the harder you try to tread quietly the louder the cheeps, squeaks and chirps – both brilliant and highly entertaining!

Though the complex closes at 5PM the castle closes at 4PM so make sure you get there before 3:20PM unless you're only interested in the gardens – which are lovely, but not as lovely as those of the Ginkakuji or Shoren-in Temples. You have to take your shoes off to enter the castle even though it's not a temple – so boys and girls plan your footwear.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Nijo Castle

This was a Palace of the last Tokugawa shogun(ruling samurai) warriors. This place has been preserved beautifully. All the rooms still have original wall paintings done by the famous ‘Kanō’ painters. They have already started to degrade and the tour guide indicated that they will be shifted to a museum shortly. Among the rooms we saw was the shogun’s personal living quarters where no man except himself was allowed to come. Of course there was no such restriction on the ladies. It is said that the Shogun had over 1000 maid servants. And he was free to choose any women as his concubine who would carry his child. Our Shogun here was surely a ‘Playa’!

There is also a beautiful garden behind the Ninomaru palace. Strolling in the garden at your own pace listening to birds chirping, looking at the huge palace makes you wonder about the kind of lifestyle these samurai warriors had.

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