Nijo Castle (二条城), Kyoto, Japan - part 1. Ninomaru palace

Nijo castle (UNESCO World heritage site) is the name of the whole place (275,000 m²), in which two palaces are located and which is surrounded by a large moat. It was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. He was the main military leader and he was practically ruling the country, whereas the emperor was just for show (source). The Tokugawa clan ruled from 1600 - 1868 and they moved the political power from Kyoto to Edo (the current Tokyo). So, Nijo castle is basically the extra house where they could stay in if they needed to be in the area. Architecture wise, Nijo castle displays early Edo period building designs, lavish paintings, and carvings.

Front entrance (Higashi Otemon) 

I didn't even realize it, but even the front entrance is seen as one of the Important Cultural Properties in Japan. It has a very impressive, wide door, with a smaller opening.

Front entrance (Higashi Otemon) Nijo Castle Kyoto japan

On the inside, you can find a small guard house to the right. I think that that was where I bought the entrance tickets. 

Front entrance (Higashi Otemon) inside ticket office

Main gate (Karamon)

To reach the Ninomaru palace, you need to walk under the Karamon. It is a Chinese style gate with an abundant amount of gold decorations.

Karamon main gate to Ninomaru palace Nijo castle kyoto japan

You can find flowers, butterflies, cranes (symbols of long life), and a dragon and a tiger facing each other on the bottom part. 

Karamon main gate details butterflies cranes tiger dragon

 Ninomaru palace

Ninomaru palace consists of 6 buildings and Kurumayose is the first building you will see, which is the entrance way. You can enter the palace and look around in all those buildings connected with hallways, which was done in an elegant, yet simple shion-zukuri architectural style, a favorite among Japanese warriors. Make sure to take your shoes off before entering and remember to not take any pictures inside.

Ninomaru palace wide view nijo castle kyoto Japan

In total, there are over 3000 (954 of them were designated as Important Cultural Properties) wall paintings created by prominent members of the Kano school. The wall paintings in the palace are reproductions, but you can get a good feeling how grand the paintings look in the large rooms. For the real deal, you can go visit the art gallery at the end of the tour through Nijo castle. 

Ninomaru palace nijo castle kyoto japan

I was the most impressed by the nightingale hallways, which make a clear and loud nightingale sound whenever you take a step on the floor. It was the alarm system of the ancient times. I almost felt like a samurai or ninja who was trying to steal secret documents or assassinate the leader. I am really impressed how well it held over such a long time. You will also learn about how the fifteenth Tokugawa Shogun returned the sovereignty to the Emperor in the Main hall of the Ninomaru palace.  

Ninomaru palace close up roof sideways nijo castle kyoto japan

The palace consists mainly of reception rooms for guests (the more high-ranked and well respected you are, the more inside you get). There are also the shogun's living quarters, the ministers' offices, and the Imperial Messenger's room.

Ninomaru palace close up roof front nijo castle kyoto japan

Ninomaru garden

Right next to the Ninomaru palace, is the Ninomaru garden. It has a large pond with three small islands (largest one is Horai-jima - the island of eternal happiness - and the smaller islands are Crane island and Turtle island , both animals are symbols of long life), 4 bridges, large stones scattered everywhere, and beautiful pine trees. The original garden was supposedly created by Kobori Enshu, a master garden designer. (source: Nijo castle brochure)

Ninomaru garden nijo castle kyoto japan

Because I took so many pictures, I will split this article in three parts. Here, you will find part 2 and part 3.

Nijo Castle official website
Opening hours:  08:45 - 16:00  (the gates close at 17:00), entrance inside the Ninomaru palace (09:00 - 16:00)
Entrance fee: 600 yen
Closed: during New year period (26 December - 4 January) and each Tuesday of January, July, August and December.
Special events: late March - mid April, the Sakura trees will have a night time illumination. Late Sept. - late November, there is a castle festival.
Note: It is forbidden to take pictures and videos inside the Ninomaru Palace. Also, don't use unipods and tripods on the Nijo castle grounds. Eating should only be done in the resting room near the entrance.

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