Having enjoyed our first day and evening in the culturally rich city of Kyoto (we saw a garden, a temple, and an observation deck!), the second day kicked off with a trek to Nijo Castle, one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and an UNESCO designated World Heritage Site.
On our way there, we were treated to some pretty fantastic modern architecture along the streets of Kyoto, before it all gave way to much older houses, eventually opening up to reveal the massive and majestic walls of Nijo Castle itself.
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle’s palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.
After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site.
Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.
The Ninomaru Palace served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. Surviving in its original form, the palace consists of multiple separate buildings that are connected with each other by corridors with so called nightingale floors, as they squeak when stepped upon as a security measure against intruders. The palace rooms are tatami mat covered and feature elegantly decorated ceilings and beautifully painted sliding doors.
Outside of the Ninomaru Palace extends the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a large pond, ornamental stones and manicured pine trees.
Sadly, the Castle Keep and Honmaru Palace Complex is no more, but you can still climb up the remaining foundations to get a good view over the immense castle complex.
This is one of the best preserved examples castle palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era, and certainly makes for an interesting (and popular) tourist attraction.
Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the interior of the palace, but I certainly made up for it in terms of just the sheer number of exterior shots! :)
(On another note, no samurai exhibits were found on the day, but we were however super impressed with the efficiency at which a small team was expertly trimming the castle hedges…)
Also, Japanese vending machine Fanta isn’t quite the same as the Fanta we get out here.