On my final morning in Kyoto I ventured into the central part of the city to visit Nijo Castle. This would be my last major sightseeing destination in Kyoto and I got there around 10:00am. After purchasing my ticket and entering the main gate I ended up filling out a questionnaire that was being given to foreign visitors. It had a bunch of questions about my experience in Japan and tourism in general, so I’m guessing the local/regional/national government was gathering info on ways to make Japan more enjoyable for visitors.
Construction of Nijo Castle began in 1601 and up until 1867 this castle was the shogun’s residence whenever the shogun was in Kyoto. Starting in 1868 the castle was used as a palace for the royal family for some time and in 1939 it was donated to the city of Kyoto. Soon after that it was opened to the public. A few sections of the castle have also been destroyed over the preceding centuries by natural disasters but much of it remains intact.
Not far from the castle’s main entrance is the Karamon Gate that leads to the inner part of the castle grounds. This gate was actually transplanted to Nijo Castle from Fushimi Castle, which is down at the southeastern edge of Kyoto. The intricate decorations of the gate were meant to inform visitors that they were entering the residence of a very important person.
The highlight of Nijo Castle is the Ninomaru Palace. This is where the shogun would live and it’s has survived to this day in its original form. Photography prohibited inside the palace, which is unfortunate because Ninomaru has many rooms with beautifully painted sliding doors and ornate ceilings. One of the rooms that I remember most had paintings of tigers on the sliding doors, and this was where people would be kept while waiting for their chance to speak with the shogun. The tigers were meant to intimidate visitors and let them know that the shogun was not to be messed with.
After viewing the Ninomaru Palace the tour route took me through one of the castle’s gardens and past the backside of the palace. I then crossed over the castle’s inner moat to the Honmaru, which was where the castle’s defenders would fall back to if the outer walls were breached. Inside the Honmaru is a secondary palace that is not open to the public.
In the southwestern corner of the Honmaru walls is a turret that visitors can climb to get a better view of the area. The covered-over buildings in the photos above are the Honmaru Palace. I’m not sure when restoration work will finish on the palace but hopefully by the time Japan reopens for tourism the coverings will be gone. Originally there was a five-story main tower standing on the site of the Honmaru Palace but in 1750 it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
When I left the Honmaru I worked my way across the western and northern parts of Nijo Castle back towards the main gate on the east side. The weather was really nice that day and visiting the castle was a fine way to conclude my notable sightseeing in Kyoto. I still had a couple hours before I’d be leaving Kyoto and I’d end up revisiting a few spots near my hostel but this was the final item on my to-do list for the city.