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Nijo Castle

No matter how many times you visit, you will discover something new! Highlights of Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Nijo Castle is a popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto that attracts many visitors from Japan and abroad. Once inside the castle, the magnificent historical architecture and lush gardens change dramatically from the city center, and in spring, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of cherry blossoms, about 300 cherry trees in 50 varieties, including mountain cherry trees, village cherry trees, and double-stemmed weeping cherry trees. In spring, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of cherry blossoms, including about 300 cherry trees of 50 varieties, such as mountain cherry trees, village cherry trees, and double-stemmed weeping cherry trees.
In this issue, we will introduce not only the basic information you should check out when visiting Nijo Castle, but also some unusual sights such as the mysteries hidden in its history.

Photo courtesy of Nijo Castle Office, Motorikyu Nijo Castle, Kyoto City

1.History] Witnessing the beginning and the end of the Tokugawa period, and with the changing times.

Its construction began in May 1601 by order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo shogunate. In March 1603, Ieyasu entered Nijo Castle for the first time and went to the imperial palace to pay his respects to the Shogun. He invited the feudal lords, the prince, court nobles, and other dignitaries, and held a splendid banquet in the castle, strongly impressing them with his authority as Shogun.
In 1605, a banquet was held again in honor of the Shogun's reception by the second Shogun, Hidetada, and in 1614, the castle became the site of Ieyasu's campaign during the Osaka Winter and Summer Campaigns, making it a key historical site. In 1626, the biggest event since the castle's construction took place. Emperor Gosui was invited to visit the castle. The princess who connected the public and the military was Masako, the fifth daughter born to Hidetada and Oe. The procession began with a visit to the imperial palace, and then proceeded in splendor and splendor from the Imperial Palace to Nijo Castle. Hidetada ordered repairs to set the stage for the procession, and the castle underwent a major renovation during the Kan'ei period.

The Shogun had not entered the castle for a long time after the period of peace under the Emperor, but the era moved into the turmoil at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. After about 230 years, the 14th shogun, Iemochi, visited the castle. In October 1867, the 15th Shogun, Yoshinobu Yoshinobu, announced his intention to return to the shogunate at Ninomaru Palace, and in 1868, the Meiji Emperor went to Nijo Castle and issued an imperial rescript declaring the establishment of a new regime. It is well known that this was the historical stage that brought an end to the long-lasting samurai society and triggered Japan's move toward modernization.

When the Meiji government was established, Nijo Castle was used as the Kyoto Prefectural Office. In 1915, the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony of Emperor Taisho was held at the castle, and a glittering banquet was held to celebrate his accession to the throne, attended by the Imperial Family, dignitaries from Japan, and foreign envoys.

In 1939, as the Showa period came to an end, it was given to Kyoto City by the Imperial Household Ministry and opened to the public.

2.Highlights (1)] The Karamon Gate is full of rare animals! And a hidden hollyhock crest.

Nijo Castle

Karamon, the main gate of Ninomaru Goten. It is a four-legged gate with a 10-meter-high gabled roof with a cypress bark roof. [It is the most prestigious of the many gates of Nijo Castle.

The main gate of Ninomaru Goten, built in 1625 (the year before the Kan'ei Gyoko-do). The entire space above the pillars is filled with carvings of dragons and tigers, as well as cranes, turtles, butterflies, pine, bamboo, and plum, symbols of longevity and prosperity. The dragons and tigers carved facing each other on the central beam of the building were placed as symbols of protection for the castle, and ten Chinese lions can be found throughout the gate. It is fun to look for them while taking into account the significance of each sculpture.
The chrysanthemum crest attached to the karahafu (gable) has a little secret behind it. The chrysanthemum crest is a symbol of the imperial family, but traces of the Tokugawa family's hollyhock crest remained on the reverse side of the chrysanthemum crest found during the Showa repair. Furthermore, during the Heisei era's major repairs, it was discovered that the small metal fittings of the rafters that support the roof have a hollyhock crest below the chrysanthemum crest.

3.The Ninomaru Palace, with its tigers and pine trees, a Kano School project.

Nijo Castle

Ninomaru Palace

It was built as a residence for the Shogun during his stay in Kyoto, and underwent a major renovation during the Kan'ei Gyoko period to its present form. The six buildings, each with an irimoya (gabled) roof and arranged in a row in the shape of a wild goose, have 33 rooms in the samurai-style shoin-zukuri style, with approximately 800 tatami mats and a total corridor length of 450 m. The building also features 3,600 paintings by the Kano school, one of Japan's leading early modern painters. An additional highlight is the more than 3,600 paintings by the Kano school, one of Japan's leading groups of painters in the early modern period. As the shogunate's official painters, the Kano school was solely responsible for the production of the paintings that decorated the palace during the Kan'ei Gyoko no Kai renovation. In the Ninomaru Palace, the old and new styles of painting coexist in the same building: the grandiose style inherited from the Momoyama style, and the new style that eliminates depth.

Nijo Castle

The painting of the Ensamurai, in which the tiger's eyes are painted at the same level as the seated visitor's gaze, is designed to further increase the sense of intimidation.

The largest wing of the Ninomaru Goten, the Tohsamurai is the first place visitors enter. The rooms from 1-no-Ma to 3-no-Ma, which were used as an antechamber, are painted with a fierce tiger, glaring menacingly at the visitor. Visitors must have been nervous as they waited to be shown the way.

Nijo Castle

The pine trees in the hall, painted using the visual effect of space, are a stage set-up to further enhance the Shogun's authority.

This is the most official hall in the Ninomaru Palace, where the Shogun officially meets the lords and other dignitaries. The boldly painted pine tree is a device to emphasize the Shogun's dignity. The pine tree on the wall behind the Shogun in the front of the Ichinoma Room arcs above his head as if it were protecting him. The pine trees on either side of the Shogun's head are drawn so large that those looking up from the lower level feel as if the Shogun is farther away than he actually is. The ceiling above the head of the Ichi-no-ma room, where the Shogun sits, has a double-high folded ceiling, indicating his high status.

Nijo Castle

The Cherry Blossom Room in the Black Drawing Room depicts a peaceful spring with wild birds and parakeets playing by the water in the transition of cherry blossoms.

From the grand hall, the impression changes completely to the Kuroshoin. Here, feudal lords and high-ranking court nobles close to the Tokugawa family met. The paintings on the wall depict flowers and trees of the four seasons. Pine trees are also painted in different ways to give a neat impression. The ceiling in the Ichi-no-ma room only has an orijo-gakuteme ceiling, with arabesque patterns on a gold background and phoenixes painted in rich colors, indicating the special status of the ceiling.

4.Highlights of Ninomaru Garden, produced by Enshu Kobori, has a variety of expressions.

Designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the government in 1953, this is a garden with a pond and garden fountain. The floating islands of Nakajima, Tsuru-jima, and Turtle-jima in the pond were designed based on the Chinese idea of the sacred hermit Horai, and the many rocks along the edge of the pond create a richly varied landscape.
It is believed to have existed from the time the castle was built, and Kobori Enshu took the lead in the great renovation of the Kan'ei Era, creating the prototype of the present garden. Until then, the garden had been viewed from the hall and the black drawing room, but when the Gyoko-dono Palace was built for the emperor, the garden was created with the view from the palace in mind. From the hall and Kuroshoin, one gets the impression of a samurai house with many steep rocks, while from Gyoko Goten, one can see a softer scene centered around the mirror stones placed in the center and on the left and right sides.

5.Honmaru Goten, the elegant palace of the imperial family.

Nijo Castle

The Honmaru Goten, a residential building of the imperial family in the Edo period. The mukuri-roof with a bulged center is often seen in sukiya-style buildings. It is also used in the Katsura Imperial Villa and other buildings. The rounded roof gives the building a graceful appearance that is typical of buildings belonging to the imperial family. The building is currently closed to the public due to conservation and repair work.

The Honmaru Goten, with its distinctive rounded roof, is an elegant building.
The first floor features elaborate designs such as transoms, while the second floor is decorated in the sukiya style and overlooks the garden. The second floor is designed in the sukiya style and overlooks the garden. The Shoin, the official space of the imperial family, also serves as a Noh stage and is appropriately decorated for welcoming distinguished guests. The kitchen, which still retains the electrical equipment used for Taisho Tairei banquets, and the entranceway, which is a world of the aristocracy, are just a few of the highlights that visitors should take their time to explore.
Also noteworthy here are the paintings on the walls. Works by painters active from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period adorn each room, and the elegance unique to the Miyake family, such as seasonal flora and fauna and rural landscapes, is accentuated in their style.

6.Highlights (5)] Slightly different sights

Nijo Castle and its surroundings, which have been repeatedly burned down and renovated, have changed with the times, and in addition to the architecture, there are historical techniques that should be observed closely and mysterious sights that deepen the mystery.

<Difference of stone wall
First, I would like to introduce the stonewalls, which are the cornerstone of the defenses and a sign of the lord's authority. The first of the three main techniques used is field masonry, which remains in the area from the northwest corner of the outer moat to the east. The second technique is "Uchikome-tsugi," which can be seen especially in the inner moat. This technique is used to pile roughly processed stones to reduce the gaps between them, thereby increasing the strength of the wall and making it possible to build a stone wall higher and steeper than field masonry. [The third is kirikomi-tsugi, a more sophisticated version of the huchikomi-tsugi technique. The third is kirikomi-tsugi, which is a more refined version of the Uchikomi-tsugi technique. This technique aims to pile up stone walls without gaps, but although it has a more pleasing appearance, it is inferior to Uchikomi-tsugi in terms of strength. You can see the difference in some of the stonewalls inside the west gate.

In addition, on the stone walls of the creek that runs east of Horikawa-dori, there are engravings showing the names of the feudal lords who were entrusted with the construction of the castle at the time of its construction. Unique markings such as "Maru ni Yama" (mountain in a circle) and "Niju Maru" (double circle) are engraved on the walls, so please look for them as you stroll around the castle.

Stonewalls around Nijo Castle

<Nijo Castle, tilted at a three-degree angle.
In Kyoto City, streets run straight from east to west, north to south, and south to south, just like a grid. However, it is not well known that Nijo Castle is not parallel to Horikawa-dori, but is actually tilted at an angle. It is unclear whether this is due to a misalignment between north and true north when the castle was built using a compass, or due to geomagnetic fluctuations, but the north-south axis is tilted 3 degrees to the east. Walking along Horikawa-dori, where the East Main Gate is located, you will not notice that the square in front of the gate becomes narrower as you move north, unless you are conscious of it.

<Three detached palaces in a straight line
Katsura Rikyu, Shugakuin Rikyu, and the former Nijo Rikyu (Nijo Castle) are the three remaining detached palaces in Kyoto. In fact, these three palaces are located on a straight line when viewed on a map. Even the Imperial Palace is on this line. Katsura Rikyu was built by Emperor Gosui's uncle, Prince Tomohito Hachijo, and Shugakuin Rikyu was built by Emperor Gosui himself, all of which are related to Emperor Gosui who went to Nijo Castle.

Other mysteries are everywhere, such as the five-strand fences used at Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace, and the lack of an entrance to the Imperial Apostles' Room. The depth of the castle's charm lies in the new discoveries that can be made no matter how many times you visit.

7.Access and Worship Information

From Exit 1 of Nijojo-mae Subway Station
Short walk
From JR Nijo Station
17 min. walk
By bus from Kyoto Station
B1 boarding area
Route 9 (for Nijo Castle and Nishigamo garage) → get off at Nijojo-mae bus stop → a short walk
B2 boarding area
Take the No. 50 bus (bound for Ritsumeikan University)→get off at the Nijojo-mae bus stop→a short walk
By bus from Karasuma-Shijo Subway Station
Bus stop D (south side of Shijo St.)
Board the No. 12 train (bound for Kinkakuji or Ritsumeikan University) →exit at the Nijojo-mae bus stop →short walk

Parking lot (passenger cars)
Parking Lot 1 (east side of Nijo Castle)
Number of cars/120 cars *54 cars only in October
Hours of operation/8:15-18:00 *Opening hours change according to the opening hours of the castle during events, etc.
Fee: 1,200 yen for up to 2 hours, 300 yen per hour thereafter
Parking Lot No. 3 (south side of Nijo Castle)
Number of units / 20 units
Hours of operation/8:15-18:00 *Opening hours change according to the opening hours of the castle during events, etc.
Fee: 800 yen for up to 2 hours, 200 yen per hour thereafter

Bicycle parking lot
Number of vehicles: 10 motorcycles (no large bikes), 83 bicycles
Hours of operation/8:15-18:00 *Opening hours change according to the opening hours of the castle during events, etc.
Fee/Motorcycle: 400 yen for up to 2 hours, 200 yen per hour thereafter
Bicycle: 200 yen for up to 2 hours, 100 yen per hour thereafter

[Cherry blossom viewing information]
Best time to visit/Mid-March to mid-April (usual)
Opening hours/8:45-16:00 (Closing hours/17:00)
*The Honmaru Palace is currently closed for conservation and repair work.
Ninomaru Palace viewing reception hours/8:45-16:10

[Autumn Foliage Season Information]
Best time to see/usually mid-November to early December
The Nijo Castle Paintings on Display and Collections Autumn exhibition of original paintings "Chrysanthemum and Fan - 4-no-Ma"".
Open: Thursday, October 5 - Sunday, December 3, 2023
Hours: 9:00 - 16:30 (closing at 16:45)
Admission/100 yen *Admission fee is required *Free for elementary school students and younger

Former Imperial Villa Nijo Castle

  • Motorikyu Nijojo
  • 541 Nijojo-machi, Nijo-dori Horikawa-nishiiru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
  • Tel.075-841-0096
  • The castle is closed/December 29-31
    (If the day is a holiday, the Ninomaru Palace may be viewed on the following day. However, it will be closed on the following day.)
  • https://nijo-jocastle.city.kyoto.lg.jp/

  • [Normal entry]
    Opening hours/8:45-16:00 (Closing hours/17:00)
    *The Honmaru Palace is currently closed for conservation and repair work.
    Ninomaru Palace viewing reception hours/8:45-16:10
    Castle entrance fee (includes Ninomaru Palace viewing fee): Adults ¥1,300, junior and senior high school students ¥400, elementary school students ¥300
    Admission fee for the exhibition collection hall/100 yen *Free for children under elementary school age (4 times a year, 240 days in total)
*Please note that the information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
*Since this site uses automatic translation, the translation may differ from the original Japanese content.

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