Dark clouds cautioned rain the morning we were at Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan. Thankfully, we were not out of luck yet. Not just yet until a swamp of school kids showed up for a tour and the gates at the castle looked like a big school fair. Seriously, if what these kids do is just tour Kyoto, I want to be in school again!
Despite the crowd, my first sight of Nijo Castle was a moment to remember. Giant stone walls and moat surround the entire castle and the Southwest Tower looking grandeur itself is a view to behold, perfect for this declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Najo Castle was built by the founder of the Edo shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, to guard the city’s Imperial possessions. It is also patterned to resemble the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is mainly divided into three : the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense), the Honmaru (main circle of defense), and some gardens that encircle both.
Ninomaru Palace is an intricate structure consisting of 6 buildings connected diagonally to each other by sliding doors. It is decorated with original paintings and some sheets of golden leaf. The floor is covered with tatami which maybe annoying to some but appealing to me! It served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto and most famous for its “nightingale floors” that squeak when stepped upon. It is one ingenious technique to know if there are intruders and certainly an insightful experience I personally enjoyed and will remember. Ninomaru is open to visitors but photos are prohibited and shoes must be taken off. Tour guides in some corners of the palace are done in speakers but are spoken in Nihonggo and we regretted not renting the English audio guides. Also, I found the wax figures of the shogunate and his officials disturbing, they look real! I hope it is just me.
Honmaru Palace, on the other hand, is not open to the public but it looked really beautiful standing in the midst of a beautiful landscape. It was built as a residence in the final days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
As mentioned, gardens encircle Nijo Castle and it makes the tour more interesting and the palaces picture perfect.
Further left from the Honmaru Palace close to the exit is a little hill for a better lookout view. Uphill, the moats around the castle is better appreciated. Trust me, it is very rewarding.
By the way, it is quite a walk. But it is most advised to sit down, relax and just breathe the moment. Afterall, you are inside a castle and you are free to treat yourself like a royalty.
Check on Google Street View of Nijo Castle below for additional perspective: