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One of Kyoto’s Most Famous Sightseeing Spots! Trivia on the Former Imperial Residence, Nijo Castle

Located in Kyoto City, Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle) is a popular tourist destination that has been registered as a World Heritage Site. Below are some pieces of trivia that will make your tour of one of Kyoto’s best sightseeing spots even more enjoyable.

What is Nijo Castle?

Nijo Castle was built by the military commander Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. The castle served as the Kyoto base of the Edo Shogunate (Tokugawa-led government) for over 260 years, and is also famous as the venue of the Taiseihokan meeting in 1867, wherein the shogunate relinquished its sovereignty to the Imperial Court. It became a rikyu (detached villa of the Imperial Family) in 1884 and was donated to Kyoto City in 1939. It is currently open to the public as Motorikyu Nijo-jo (Former Imperial Villa Nijo Castle). Inside this castle are various historic buildings. It also houses three gardens, including the Ninomaru Garden, which has been designated as a special place of scenic beauty in Japan, so you will get to bask in beautiful nature every season.

Entrance fees: General: 600 JPY, Junior/senior high school: 350 JPY, Elementary school: 200 JPY

What is Nijo Castle?

541 Nijojo-cho, Nijo-dori Horikawa Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

Highlights

1. Ninomaru Palace

The biggest highlight of Nijo Castle is Ninomaru Goten (Ninomaru Palace). Ninomaru Goten is made up of six buildings standing over a 3,300-sq.m. space. A gorgeous and luxurious structure that flaunts the power of the Edo Shogunate, this palace is a masterpiece of the buke-fu shoin-zukuri style (a style adopted for samurai residences). It is resplendent and gorgeous not only on the outside, but also on the inside. There are more than 3,000 sliding door paintings inside, and at least 1,000 of them are designated as national important cultural properties. These sliding door paintings were done by artists of the Kano school, the most prominent school, or style, in the history of Japanese painting, and the character and ambiance of each room is created by skillful brush strokes.

2. Nightingale Floor Corridor

One of the must-see attractions at Ninomaru Palace is the Uguisu-bari no Roka (corridor with nightingale flooring) that creates the sound of an uguisu (Japanese nightingale) when you walk on it. This corridor is designed in such a way that when you walk on it, the special metal fittings called “mekasugai” (clamps) that are attached to the floor board will move up and down and then create a sound when they rub against each other. It is also considered as a kind of alarm system that warned about the presence of ninjas and other intruders. Incidentally, the Chion-in temple affiliated with the Tokugawa family also features these nightingale floors.

3. Karamon

The Karamon gate (Chinese-style gate) is a shikyakumon gate (four supporting pillars and a gabled roof) located in front of Ninomaru Palace that has been designated as an important cultural property of the state. Its main highlights are the full-color woodcarvings that lavishly decorate this gate. Some of these woodcarvings are the elaborate Botan ni Cho (Peony and Butterfly) and Ryuko (Dragon and Tiger).
Another feature of this gate that you must pay attention to are the kiku-no-mon (chrysanthemum crests) under the eaves of the roof. During the restoration of this gate, aoimon (hollyhock crests) that symbolized the Tokugawa family were found underneath the chrysanthemum crests that represented the Imperial Family. Speculation is that during the time when Nijo Castle’s ownership was turned over to the Imperial Family, the symbol of the Imperial Family was put in place to cover the symbol of the Tokugawa family.

4. Honmaru Palace

The 20,000-sq.m. space surrounded by the inner moat inside Nijo Castle is called the Honmaru. It was a major part of the original castle, boasting a scale on par with that of Ninomaru Palace at the time it was built. It also had a five-story tower, but it was burned down by lightning. The simple and elegant Honmaru Palace (designated as a national important cultural property) inside the Homaru is the former Katsura-no-miya Palace in the Kyoto Imperial Palace that was transferred to the Honmaru grounds in 1893 – 1894.

5. Is Nijo Castle Off By 3 Degrees to the East?

The metropolitan city of Kyoto is known for its orderly city division that uses streets on the east and west, and north and south. However, the site of Nijo Castle deviates 3 degrees from the north and south in a clockwise direction, and there are many theories behind this phenomenon. For instance, one theory claims that at the time the castle was built, the magnetic north of Western Japan deviated by around 5 degrees to the east. Some of the buildings from that era that are now said to be shifting toward the east are the Honden (main shrine) of Yasaka Shrine and the Sanmon gate of Chion-in Temple. How fascinating.

Aside from those discussed above, the historic Nijo Castle is full of other charms and trivia. So, if you are interested, please take the time to research about them.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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