Nijo Castle Kyoto
Nijo Castle Kyoto
Nijo Castle offers a rare look inside a shogun’s palace. The grounds feature incredible Japanese pine trees, seasonal flowers and highlight cherry blossoms in spring and autumn leaves in fall
Main Gate (Higashi-Omete-mon)
Guard House (Bansho)
Ninomaru Palace and Garden
Honmaru Palace and Garden
Donjon (site of original donjon)
The first of which was completed in 1603 by Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. Ieyasu was a consummate strategist and his purpose for building Nijo Castle was two-fold. Firstly, the castle established a visible presence in Kyoto as the Tokugawa shogunate moved the capital to Edo (Tokyo). Nijo Castle allowed the Tokugawa clan to maintain a tight hold on Kyoto and closely watch rival daimyo (lords) and the emperor. This was paramount as Kyoto had been the political capital of Japan since 794 and any attempts to usurp power from the Tokugawa clan would ultimately involve the emperor.
Secondly, the building of Nijo Castle required a multitude of financial resources the Tokugawa clan extracted from the daimyo. This brilliant machination considerably weakened any potential rivals. Ieyasu and successive Tokugawa shoguns implemented this policy among others, to great effect. It continually weakened other daimyo, thus maintaining their tight hold over power.
Between 1603 and 1626 the castle grounds radically changed. The Ninomaru Palace grounds originally spanned 190,000 square metres but quickly expanded to its current 275,000 square metre area. The outside moats measure 13-19 metres high and 6 metres thick. The strong fortified positions are another example of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s almost obsessive preoccupation with security, and using fear and intimidation as tools to project an image of strength. However, the inner sanctum of the Ninomaru Palace also display an aesthetic side. In particular, the Kara-mon gate and a number of the rooms within Ninomaru Palace reflect much of the splendor in art during a period referred to as the Momoyama period, as pre-eminent artists from the Kano School painted the walls and fusuma (sliding doors).
Nijo Castle was intended to simply be a symbol of the Tokugawa shogunate’s power and did not require the shogun to be present. As a result, the 3rd Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa who came to power in 1636 became the last shogun to live in Ninomaru Palace until 1863, when the 14th Shogun Iemochi Tokugawa decided to live there. Then, in 1867 the 15th Shogun Yoshinobu announced the return of power to Emperor Meiji in the Upper Grand Chamber.
These historical events among others, secured Ninomaru Palace’s place in Japanese history as it marked both the Tokugawa shogunate’s rise and fall In 1868, Ninomaru Palace seems to have been somewhat forsaken by the Meiji Emperor and became known as the detached palace. In spite of this, it was turned over to the city of Kyoto in 1939. Along with many other buildings within Nijo Castle it was designated a national treasure and in 1994 Nijo Castle in its entirety was recognised as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Higashi-Ote-Mon (East Facing Gate)
Its purpose was to concentrate the enemy at the front of the gate to gain a tactical advantage in the event the castle was besieged (the castle was never attacked).The Kita-Mon (North Gate) is built in the same Yagura-Mon style but slightly smaller. The characteristics of Yagura-Mon entail a gate that is sandwiched on either side by a wall and has a turret running overhead. These two gates remain unchanged since the original construction of Nijo Castle.
Bansho (Guard House)
Security was of utmost importance inside the premises of Nijo Castle. This bansho was one of a few guardhouses where the Nijo-zaiban (Nijo Castle special guard detail of 50 warriors) took up residence and dispatched their duties. Annually, a new Nijo-zaiban was dispatched in April to relieve the previous group. The shogun was rarely present, but guards had to stay alert and usually maintained vigilance by patrolling the premises and working hard to ensure castle defenses were maintained. The three figures inside the bansho represent typical Nijo-zaiban. The one standing is the superior and he is said to be wearing more ceremonial dress. The other three sitting are his subordinates.
Kara-mon (Chinese-Style Gate)
One walks through the Kara-mon-Chinese style gate just before the approach to Ninomaru Palace. The elegantly curl shaped part of the roof is borrowed from Chinese temple architecture and referred to as Kara-gable. Together with the Kara-mon’s colourul carvings and gold plated metal fixtures, Kara-mon is considered to be a distinctive artistic relic of the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The gate itself actually originates from the Fushimi Palace and was later transferred here. It was generally used to receive Imperial messengers and also referred to as the “Imperial Messenger Gate.” Similar to this one, Nishi Honganji and Toyokuni are said to be only a few other select places to have Imperial Messenger Gates.
Upon passing through the Kara-mon, one walks over the rocks and kuruma yosei (carriage approach) toward the the entrance of Ninomaru Palace. Above the entrance is large intricately sculpted wood panel. There are a few more exquisite works inside the palace.
The palace is designed in a Samurai Shoin-style, representative of 17th century architectural design. The palace itself is 3,300 square metres and has 33 rooms with approximately 800 tatami mats. It also has a kitchen, staff and other commoners used. Although the palace is composed of a multitude of rooms, six main rooms usually receive much of the attention. These rooms are decorated with fusuma-e (painted sliding doors). They were painted by artists belonging to the Kano School and considered pre-eminent artists during the Momoyama period.
1. Tozaimurai-no-ma (Waiting room for visiting warriors)
2. Shikidai-no-ma (Formal Greeting room for visiting Feudal Lords)
3. Ohiroma-san-no-ma (Grand Chamber)
4. Ohiroma-ni-no-ma & Ohiroma-ichi-no-ma (Lower/Upper Grand Chamber)
5. Kuro Shoin (Black Study)
6. Shiro Shoin (White Study) After entering the palace, one is immediately greeted by a mysterious squeaking noise.
The ugusuisubari (nightingale floor) runs throughout the palace. More specifically, a corridor that follows along the perimeter of the palace is fitted with floorboards that sqeak when treaded upon. Its construction consists of clamps and nails fitted to floorboards and crevice floor joints that support the boards. This technology represented a sophisticated alarm system alerting the residence to intruders and their location within the palace. It was also used in other samurai residences, temples and shrines. In the corridor, you will notice painted images on the roof above you. Most of the designs are not original. It appears they were painted over sometime in the Meiji period. If you look carefully, you will also see a mixture of chrysanthemum and hollyhock emblems scattered throughout. The 3 hollyhock pedals symbolize the Tokugawa clan. Emperor Meiji was represented by the chrysanthemum.
Tozaimurai-no-ma [Visiting Warriors Waiting Room] This is the first room one sees upon entrance into the palace. Visiting warriors were directed here. Tozaimurai-no-ma were typical to most castles and samurai residences, however they were usually separate from the residence itself, and not as large as Ninomaru Palace’s. The Tozaimurai-no-ma was used for Tozama Daimyo-lords considered outsiders by the Tokugawa clan, thus not trustworthy.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Fudai Daimyo-lords recognized as insiders and hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa Clan were granted access to rooms deeper inside the palace. In the Tozaimurai-no-ma, visiting samurai warriors waited while inspectors thoroughly checked the identity of their lord. Prominent to the rooms are beautiful pictures on the walls, intricate woodwork, panels and fusuma-e. These features run throughout the palace and in particular the painted walls and fusuma-e were done by Kano School artists. In the Ninomaru Palace’s Tozaimurai-no-ma, the two rooms Yanagi-no-ma [Willow Room] and Wakamatsu-no-ma [Young Pine Room] are named after the willows and pine painted in each respectively. Also, there are tigers and leopards painted on the fusuma-e, resulting in it sometimes being referred to as the Tiger room. All together, these rooms comprise 10 rooms stretching over 1,000 square metres.
Apparently the Kano artists never saw real tigers. They simply based their work on hides of tigers and leopards that had been imported and drawings in texts they had seen. At the time, the artists actually believed leopards to be female tigers and painted them accordingly. During this time high esteem was attached to tigers and images of pine and willow. As a powerful first impression, Ieyasu Tokugawa meant to instill an image of power and prestige to the tozama daimyo using these images.
Shikidai-no-ma [Feudal Lord Reception Room] In Japanese culture there are many forms of greetings. Shikidai refers to a specific formal greeting carried out in this room by visiting tozama daimyo. In this room the protocol was for the shogun’s roju (minister) and sashaban (intermediary) to first meet the daimyo. The roju would greet the daimyo, then the sashaban would accept a gift on behalf of the shogun and then deliver it personally to the shogun. The pine trees near the ceiling were reportedly painted by Kano Tanyu; one of the leading artists of the time at only 25 years of age.
Ohiroma-san-no-ma [Third Grand Chamber] This room was where tozama daimyo waited for the shogun. Apparently, they had to change into formal dress before an audience with the shogun. One of the reasons was out of respect for the shogun, but it also restricted the ability to attack the shogun by forcing them to don long and baggy attire. Another characteristic of this room is the 35 cm thick carved panel on the right side of the room, just above the sliding doors. It is made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) and open on both sides. Also, there are special nail covers (hana noshi kugi kakushi) made of gold plated copper and all done by hand.
Ohiroma-ni-no-ma[Lower-Grand Chamber] This room is composed of 44 tatami mats and the theme of pine trees is very prominent. The pine trees reflected strength and intended to reinforce the shogun’s strength and power as head of all warriors in Japan. All fusuma-e in this room were painted by Kano Tanyu. The 4 persons sitting in two separate rows directly in front of the shogun are his roju. The next group is a tozama daimyo and a few of his high-ranking samurai.
Ohiroma-ichi-no-ma [Upper-Grand Chamber] This was the room from which the shogun addressed the tozama daimyo. It is slightly bigger (48 tatami mats) than the Lower-Grand Chamber, and there are a few other touches meant to illustrate the shogun’s status. If you look closely, you will see the floor the shogun sits on is slightly raised. As well, if you look at the roof above him, the roof is slightly raised too. These two subtle differences illustrate the status of the person in this room to be higher than those in the Lower-Grand Chamber. Other noticeable features of this room coincide with the prominent warrior type Shoin style décor characteristic in the Momoyama period. In the far back, there is a tsuke-shoin (attached study) and a tokonoma (alcove) with a chigai-dana (staggered shelves). There is also the chodai-gamai (body guard room) that has the thick orange ropes attached to the sliding doors. The shogun’s special guard stood at the ready in the case of an assassination attempt.
Sotetsu-no-ma [Cycadophyta Space] Currently, sotetsu-no-ma blends into the corridor and connects the Upper Chamber to Kuroin. Since its floorboards are visible, it’s easy to think of it as just part of the corridor. However, the floor was originally covered in tatami mats during the Edo period (1600-1868) and regarded as another space, rather than corridor. Images of Cycadophyta or distant relatives to palm/fern adorn the space.
Kuroin [Black Study] This room was also referred to as Sakurama (Cherry Blossom Room), after its characteristic cherry blossoms on the sliding doors. It is referred to as the ‘Black Study’ due to the black lacquer door surroundings and other sections used throughout the room. This room was reserved only for those considered insiders by the Tokugawa clan. For example, ministers and other fudai daimyo. Similar to Ohiro-no-ichi-no-ma, it displays décor consistent with the Samurai Shoin style. The screens were painted by Kano Hisanobu.
Shiroin [White Study] In general, a Shiroin was the living quarters of a shogun or feudal lord in the second half of the 16th century. As seen previously in Kuroin et al, it also has the stylistic Shoin features of the tokonoma, tsuke shoin, chigaidana and chodaigamai. However, in direct contrast to Kuroin and other rooms, this room is constructed from white Japanese cypress and the colour scheme is much softer. In conjunction with the colour scheme, paintings of flowers and birds along with the thinner pillars and horizontal beams, intended to create a less intimidating and relaxed atmosphere. Ohiroma-no-yon-no-ma (Fourth Grand Chamber) This room was used primarily as a storeroom for weapons. It was actually a protocol for visiting warriors to hand over their katana (long swords) upon entry and kept here. Evidently, the Fourth Grand Chamber is also attached to the First Grand Chamber. Upon first glance, pine trees are an overwhelming theme. The thick trunks are meant to personify great strength and some of the branches stretch as much as 11 metres across the fusuma-e. Also observable are hawks, and if you look closely you can see their talons digging into the branches, meant to add a sense of tension to the atmosphere. The fusuma-e are coated in gold leaf, creations of Kano Tanyu.
Roju-no-ma [Ministers Offices] There are a total of 3 rooms. From right to left, the rooms are named after each room’s characteristic images. The first one is referred to as “Room of wild geese”, and together the second and third rooms are referred to as “Room of willows and herons. “Also, if you look carefully the paintings run upwards to the horizontal beam and then stop. Above the beam only a blank white space exists. As compared to the Shikidai, these rooms are not as ornate and reflect the simple functional purpose of a ministerial space.
Chokushi-no-ma (Imperial Messenger Room) The shogun received Imperial Messengers from the emperor in this room. Similar to the Upper Grand Chamber, the tatami mats are slightly raised and indicate the shogun’s place. Also, further in behind the shogun is the chodaigamai (inner room for guards) but compared to the chodaigamai of the Upper Grand Chamber and Kuroin, this one was purely for decoration and meant only to show high social standing to the Imperial Messenger.
Tsurigane (Temple Bells) These two bells were used in times of emergency or attack. One of the bells was originally stationed at Shoshidai, a place to the northeast of Nijo Castle. The bells were set up to warn the castle of imminent attack by the emperor’s forces that supported the restoration of Emperor Meiji. The bell from Shoshidai was eventually brought here and now stands next to its twin.
The Honmaru Palace was modeled on the Ninomaru Palace, but its about 2/3 the size. It was built to house the retired shogun when he would visit while the incumbent shogun would stay in the Ninomaru Palace. For example, when Emperor Gomizu-no-o stayed in 1626, retired Shogun Hidetada Tokugawa stayed at the Honmaru Palace and Shogun Iemitsu stayed at the Ninomaru Palace. Unfortunately, they don’t open it up to the public. The layout of the Honmaru Palace consists of 4 main buildings. 1. Entrance 2. Tozamurai 3. Grand Chamber 4. Shoin Study
Located slightly to the west of Ninomaru Palace is Ninomaru Garden. In most cases it is atypical to see a Japanese garden built in a castle. This is a rare exception, but the garden itself is not an original design. On the contrary, Ninomaru Garden is modeled after the strolling type gardens of Ryoanji and Kinkakuji. Kabori Enshu (1579-1647) is reportedly the designer.
At the heart of the garden lies horaijima (island of eternal happiness). Then, on both sides lie two smaller islands. Starting from the left side is tsurujima (crane island). On its right side is kamejima (turtle island). Towards the back and off to the right is takeguchi (water enters from here). The garden was typically viewed from the Ohiroma and Kuro Shoin rooms.
However, in 1626 the garden landscape was altered for Emperor Gomizu-no-o who stayed in a small palace (palace was dismantled after his stay), built especially for him on the southeast side of the pond. Some rocks were apparently moved to better accommodate the view from his palace.
A cycadophyta is a distant relative to palm/fern commonly known as cycad. The cycad was originally donated by the Saga clan in Kyushu, meant to commemorate the visit of Emperor Gyoko Miyuki. Apparently, the cycad was originally presented as a single tree. However, in 1997 a schematic of the grounds dating back to approximately 1750 was uncovered. It displayed 15 cycad trees, instead of only one. Also, it still isn’t clear if this is one of the original 15. There is a picture however that dates back to the late 18th century and shows a cycad in the same position as the present one, indicating it could be at least 150 years old.
The present garden is not original. Much like the other buildings of the Honmaru Palace, it too suffered a similar fate in the fire of 1788. Very little historical material was left behind, but it is thought the original garden was at least as aesthetically appealing as the Ninomaru Garden.
Since 1788 the garden area lay vacant, but was periodically used for tea ceremony. However, the present garden was built sometime between 1893-1894 and a section of the Imperial Garden (Imperial Palace) was brought over and used to create the present Honmaru Garden. With that said, gradually the garden has undergone many alterations and become more westernized with additions of grass and other garden features.
According to the Rakuchu Rakugai folding screen and other historical sources, the Seiryu Garden was originally covered with the donjon and a walkway. Due to expansion of the castle grounds, the donjon moved and accommodations were then built for officials of the shogunate. These were dismantled and the land was used for various other purposes until 1965, the year construction of the present Seiryu Garden was finished. Philanthropists and other wealthy merchants such as Suminokura Ryoi, generously offered rocks, trees and other garden materials to be used in the construction of Seiryu Garden.
The donjon (keep or dungeon) was located somewhere in the southwest corner of the castle grounds and it probably housed weapons and other indispensable provisions. There was a passage that connected it to the Honmaru Palace. It was not original to the castle, rather at some point the keep from Fushimi Castle was transferred to Nijo Castle. In 1750 though, it burnt down after being struck by lightning and was not rebuilt.
Upon exiting the Honmaru Palace grounds from the west side, you will cross the moat. On both sides there are long strongly fortified looking buildings. These served as the storehouses for rice.
Perhaps the most famous shogun in Japanese history, Ieyasu Tokugawa was the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (military government 1600-1868) and he established Nijo castle. Ieyasu was an intriguing figure that inspired novels and movies. James Clavell’s novel “Shogun” is one of the most notable ones, as it based the character of Shogun Tokunaga on the real life of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Ieyasu’s original name was Takechiyo Matsudaira, son to Hirotada Matsudaira, daimyo (lord) of the Matsudaira clan located in an area referred to as Mikawa (present-day Ozaki City, Aichi Prefecture).
In 1550, allegience of the Matsudaira clan was split between the Imagawa and Oda clans. Hirotada chose to align himself with the Imagawa clan. Many conflicts between the clans ensued and hostage taking was a strategic measure used to secure dominance over rivals. At only six years old at the time, Ieyasu fell prey to abduction by the Oda clan.
Nobuhide Oda, leader of the Oda clan, threatened to kill Ieyasu unless Ieyasu’s father agreed to sever ties with the Imagawa clan. Knowing his decision likely meant death for Ieyasu, Hirotada nonetheless refused to acquiesce. Despite the refusal, Nobuhide decided to spare Ieyasu’s life and hold him captive.
After living as a hostage for three years at Manshoji Temple in Nagoya, in 1550 Imagawa Sessai laid siege to the castle where the new head of the Oda clan, Nobuhiro resided. The castle was on the verge of falling to Sessai, when he decided to offer a deal to Oda Nobunaga, the 2nd son of the Oda clan. Nobunaga agreed to hand over Ieyasu in exchange for cessation of the siege. Ieyasu was nine at this time. Upon transfer, Ieyasu lived under the watchful eye of the Imagawa clan until 1556.
At the age of sixteen, Ieyasu was returned to his native Mikawa. Even though Ieyasu had endured captivity, in reality he lived a comfortable life in accordance to his status and suffered no physical harm or punishment. Having returned to Mikawa in 1556, Ieyasu now had the opportunity to start his rise to shogun. Early on, Ieyasu started to distinguish himself in battle. However, even more important than his prowess on the battlefield, was his unique ability to know when to act cautiously and when to move forward boldly. He had an uncanny ability to wait for a situation to change to his favour, before he acted.
Feudal Japan endured the “Period of Warring States” from the late 15th century until the late 16th century. For the most part, it was characterized by upheaval and war. During this epoch, many warlords vied for the title of shogun or at the very least, tried to align themselves with the warlord considered to be the next in line to become shogun. However, due to the multiplicity of competing interests formation of a long lasting military government proved impossible.
Towards the end of the 16th century though, two significant figures appeared. First there was Nobunaga Oda. Then Hideyoshi Toyotomi followed shortly after. These two military warlords successively became shogun (Hideyoshi was de facto shogun, but officially regent due to his commoner roots), and during their respective administrations laid the foundations for a stable and peaceful Japan, under the sole control of one ruler.
A powerful daimyo by the name of Mitsunari Ishida plotted Ieyasu’s death. Ieyasu quickly learned of the plot, and before Mitsunari knew he was exposed, Ieyasu’s generals had tracked Mitsunari down. Ieyasu had Mitsunari in his custody, but decided to release him. It’s not exactly clear why he made this decision. It appears Ieyasu might have felt Mitsunari’s shortcomings in the plot to kill him could have been exploited on the field of battle, if kept alive. Upon Mitsunari’s release, battle lines were drawn between Mitsuri and anti-Mitsuri factions. The anti-Mitsuri faction was supported by Ieyasu, and on October 21, 1600 both factions met on the battlefield at Sekigahara. The Battle of Sekigahara is considered one of the most influential, if not the most significant battle in Japanese history. In total, over 160,000 soldiers fought. Ieyasu and the other anti-Matsunari factions enjoyed a complete victory over Mitsunari and related factions, who were either killed on the battlefield or hunted down and killed soon after. This battle established the Tokugawa clan as the shogunate (military government) and made Ieyasu the uncontested leader of all the daimyo in Japan. The Battle of Sekigahara not only served to anoint Ieyasu as the all mighty leader of Japan, it also helped Ieyasu weed out the trustworthy daimyo from the distrustful. Rougly speaking daimyo that were hereditary vassals and those that supported him during the battle were referred to as fudai daimyo, while those who fought against and pledged their allegiance after the fact, were regarded as tozama daimyo. The fudai daimyo were rewarded with lands and titles, while tozama daimyo were punished by having their land and title stripped or being sent to isolated areas. Continuing to implement Ieyasu’s brilliant strategies of control over the daimyo, the Tokugawa clan maintained their rule of Japan for over 250 years.
Hideyoshi died in 1598. The next heir was his son Hideyori, but he was only 5 years old at the time. In Hideyori’s stead, a council of five regents in which Ieyasu was appointed, was created. As fortune would have it, one of the most powerful members died of illness a year after the council was established. Ieyasu seized this opportunity and aligned himself with other allies who disliked Hideyoshi. Ieyasu boldly moved his army to Fushimi (south east suburb of Kyoto City) and took over Osaka Castle, the residence of Hideyori. These moves angered the remaining three regents. At this time alliances were quickly forming, however they polarized around an unlikely figure, involving neither the three regents nor Ieyasu.
The Battle of Sekigahara not only served to anoint Ieyasu as the all mighty leader of Japan, it also helped Ieyasu weed out the trustworthy daimyo from the distrustful. Daimyo that supported him prior to the battle were referred to as fudai daimyo, while those who pledged their allegiance after the fact, were regarded as tozama daimyo. The fudai daimyo were rewarded with lands and titles, while tozama daimyo were regarded as inferior and always kept at a distance. Continuing to implement Ieyasu’s brilliant strategies of control over the daimyo, the Tokugawa clan maintained their rule of Japan for over 250 years.
◊ Information referenced from Nijo Castle Audio Guide; Wikipedia
Nijo Castle is located close to Kyoto’s city centre. It is very easy to reach by bus and subway. If you use the bus, buses # 9, 101 go to and from Kyoto Station’s main terminal. The Tozai Subway also stops at Nijo-jo Mae Station. The Tozai Subway Line also connects to the Karasuma Subway Line from Kyoto Station.
Hours of Operation
Open Year Round
8:45-16:00 (entrance gate closes at 16:00 but grounds open till 17:00)
Note: Entrance to castle grounds opens at 8:45 but Ninomaru Palace doesn’t open until 9:00 am
Winter December 26-January 4
Other December; January; July; August; (every Tuesday is closed)
National Holidays (open National Holiday, closed following day)
Adults 600 Yen
Junior/Senior High 350 Yen (12-17 years old)
Elementary 200 Yen (11 & under)
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