Nijo Castle is a plain castle complex located in the Nakage district, Kyoto, Japan. It is a former residence of the rulers of Japan – the Tokugawa Shoguns. The castle consists of the ruins of Honmaru Palace, Ninomaru Palace, several gardens, and various auxiliary buildings. Around the overall center are two massive rings of fortifications, each consisting of a wide moat with water and a high wall.
Nijo Castle in Kyoto – Google Maps panorama
The total area of the buildings exceeds 8,000 square meters and the entire complex covers more than 275,000 square meters. It is one of the seventeen historic monuments of ancient Kyoto that have been included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. It is also part of the National Treasures of Japan.
The castle was laid in 1601 by order of the first Shogun of the Tokugawa clan, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Prince Minamoto. Construction work was completed in 1626, during the reign of the third Tokugawa dynasty Shogun, Iemitsu. At the same time some parts of another Japanese castle, Fushimi, were moved to its territory. In 1750, a lightning strike caused the main tower of the castle to burn to the ground. The fires that occurred in 1788 and 1791, almost completely destroyed some of the ancient palaces and the castle, built mainly of wood.
For many years the castle was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. After the end of the Tokugawa shogunate’s reign, which lasted until 1868, the castle was given to the imperial family and received its new name, Nijo Palace. In 1884 the castle complex acquired the status of an imperial villa. The last Emperor of Japan, Shōwa, decided to donate it to the city of Kyoto in 1939. A year after this event, the palace complex was turned into a public museum and opened to the public.
The area of Ninomaru Palace exceeds 3,300 square meters. It consists of five interconnected separate buildings and is built almost entirely of tupac or hinoki cypress. The decoration of the palace consists of large quantities of gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings, it was designed to impress visitors with the power and wealth of the Shoguns. The sliding doors, ceilings, and walls of each of the 33 luxurious rooms are decorated with exquisite decorative paintings by famous artists of the Kanu school. To preserve the unique paintings, it is forbidden to take pictures or open windows in the palace.
The floors of the palace are covered with over 800 tatami. The entire interior is a prime example of the classic Japanese style. The rooms have three walls each, connecting in a single space to the corridor. The palace also has three large halls, one of which was intended for official meetings of the emperor with the Japanese feudal nobility. It was on the grounds of Ninomaru that the Meiji Emperor took power from the last Shogun of the family, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, which occurred in 1867.
One of the most striking features of Ninomaru Palace is the “nightingale floors” (uguisubari) in the corridors, which emit a characteristic creaking sound reminiscent of birds chirping. This design of the floors prevented unwanted guests from entering the palace. The rooms were also equipped with virtually invisible paper walls behind which the rulers’ guards hid. The design of the walls and secret doors allowed the rulers to quickly leave the palace in case of danger.
The area of the palace is about 1600 square meters. The complex consists of four parts: living quarters, reception rooms, entertainment rooms, hallways, and the kitchen area. The different areas are connected with each other by corridors and courtyards. The architectural style corresponds to the late Edo period. The palace features paintings by several famous masters such as Kanu Eigaku. Honmaru Palace was originally similar to Ninomaru Palace. However, the original structures were replaced between 1893 and 1894, by moving parts of the former Katsura Palace within the Kyoto Imperial Building. The changes took place after the Imperial Court moved to Tokyo.
There are several beautiful gardens, groves of cherry trees and Japanese plum trees on the castle grounds. The Ninomaru Garden was designed by landscape architect Kobori Enshu. It is located between the two main rings of fortifications, next to the palace of the same name. There is a large pond with three islands and many picturesquely arranged stones and topiaries in the garden.
The Seiryu-en Garden was laid out in 1965, located at the northern end of the complex. Official receptions for visitors to Kyoto and cultural events for citizens, including tea ceremonies, are held here. The eastern part is a western-style garden covered with lawn, while the western part is a Japanese chisen-kaiyu (walking pond) with two tea houses. The seiryu-en garden is decorated with more than 1,000 carefully laid out stones.
Nijo Castle Painting Gallery
Was built to preserve and display the original mural and other paintings of Ninomaru Palace. Its construction began in 2003, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Nijo Castle, and was completed in October 2005 when the gallery opened to the public. The gallery’s exhibits are marked by the Japanese government as important cultural assets of the country.
The paintings are located on movable panels that are removed from storage and displayed in the gallery’s glass showcases as part of quarterly exhibitions. During the exhibitions, they are arranged in the same order they were originally in the rooms of the palace. In the hallway of the gallery are samples of decorative interior decoration of the castle and some artifacts from the castle complex discovered during excavations.
Opening hours and admission price
Kyoto Nijo Castle is open to visitors from 08:45 to 16:00. During the warm season, from July to August, it is open from 08:00 to 17:00 and in September from 08:00 to 16:00. Ninomaru Palace is open from 08:45 to 16:10, and from July to August from 08:45 to 17:10.
Cost of admission tickets:
- Nijo Castle for adults ¥620, for groups of 30 or more ¥520 per person, free for schoolchildren, students and children;
- Nijo Castle and Ninomaru Palace ¥1,030 for adults, ¥350 for students, ¥200 for schoolchildren, ¥830 for groups of 30 or more. Free for preschoolers;
- Art Gallery ¥100 for all categories of visitors.
You can also buy admission tickets at the castle gate, in the Main Information Center. Or at the Art Gallery, but only tickets to the gallery itself are sold here. Those who have purchased an electronic ticket can enter the Nijo Castle directly, using a QR code.
How to get there
The closest subway station is Nijojomae, 330 meters from Nijo Castle. Another subway station “Nijo” is about 870 meters from the castle.
Take city buses 9, 12, 50, 101, and 111 to the “Nijojo-mae” stop near the castle complex. Day passes for the Kyoto subway or other public transportation in Kyoto allow you to buy an entrance ticket to Nijo Castle for ¥100 less than the regular price and the discount is valid on the day of the trip.
In Kyoto you can use mobile apps from Uber or JapanTaxi. But it is cheaper and easier to catch a cab on the street. To do this, just raise your hand up and a free car will soon stop. You can safely pay by the meter, in Japan cab drivers generally do not cheat customers.