Former Imperial Villa Nijo Castle
In Kyoto City, where there are various temples and shrines, the Moto Rikyu (Former Imperial Villa) Nijo Castle is the “castle,” that represents samurai society. The Nijo Castle is also where the beginning and end of the long ruling Edo Shogunate (1603-1868) took place. The decoration adopting the gorgeous culture at the time of its construction is an amazement. The castle was registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and is a popular attraction where many tourists visit.
Currently, it is going under a major restoration of the Heisei era, and when it is finished, you will be able to see the brilliant colors and the shine of gold leaf just like the time the castle was constructed. Further, at the “Nijo Castle Painting Gallery,” which opened to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the castle, you can see valuable material such as the original wall paintings and buried property of Ninomaru Palace.
They are active in collaborating with modern arts and cultures. This summer, they will be hosting an event at the Koun-tei teahouse, normally closed to the public, offering breakfast while enjoying their beautiful Japanese garden, and in the past, they hosted “Art Aquarium Castle,” an exhibition which gold fish swam and danced around a lit up castle at night.
We would like to show you some great accommodation and places to shop located within walking distance of the castle, along with some helpful sightseeing information of Nijo Castle and its vicinity.
What is Nijo Castle?
The Nijo Castle is a Hirajiro Castle built in 1603 on the plains to guard the Kyoto Imperial Palace and as the residence of the shogun when he was in Kyoto. Unlike castles during the civil war period when building them to prepare for war was considered most important, Hirajiro are castles built on the plains with emphasis on development of the economy and efficiency of politics. The perimeter is 1.8 kilometers and the surface area is 275,000 square meters. There are many places to see in the site such as the Honmaru Palace, which was relocated from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and reconstructed, and the three gardens. There are especially two must-see spots — the Ninomaru Palace which has the Karamon main gate and national treasure, and the Ninomaru Garden which has a special scenic beauty.
“Karamon Main Gate”
Right after you go through admissions, you will pass the Higashi Ote-Mon (Great Eastern Gate), and then inside the castle as you walk to your left, you will see the Karamon Main Gate, which is designated as an important cultural property. The gate completed by third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu is a triangle shaped roof that is a cypress bark shingle gabled roof with Karahafu decoration, characteristic for its brilliantly colored Ranma carvings.
After finishing major restoration in 2013, the gilded and lacquered decorations recovered their vivid texture of the time of construction. During the restoration process, the workers discovered a wild ginger trefoil seal of the Tokugawa shogun clan hidden under the Imperial chrysanthemum emblem, the seal that represents the emperor. This incident garnered attention since it clearly demonstrates the history of the change in the lords of the castle after Taisei Hokan (details mentioned later).
The Ninomaru Palace is a 3,300-square meter building with 33 rooms, where the shogun uses for residence and also meet his retainers to govern. Six buildings are connected, such as the “Kurumayose” which allows oxcarts to go inside the building, the “Toozamurai” which is a waiting area for the feudal lords, the “Kuroshoin” and “Shiroshoin” which are private areas of the shogun, and “Ohiroma” a place where in which audiences occur. The Ninomaru Palace retains the “Shoin-zukuri” architectural style from early Edo period (17th century), which is very rare.
Inside the Ninomaru Palace are more than 3,600 paintings on room partitions created by a group of painters representative of Japan, the Kano school, including Kano Tanyu, and 1,016 of them are designated as important cultural assets. The powerful works of art painted to make known the prestige of the Tokugawa shogunate to the feudal lords include a tiger that looks like it is about to pounce out of a background of gorgeous gold paint, and also some lush pine trees. The paintings you see inside the palace are replicas, but you can see the actual originals at the Nijo Castle Painting Gallery. In some parts of the tour route are reconstructions of the feudal lords having an audience with the shogun using life-size dolls. Try imagining how the nervous tone in the great hall was while you walk through the palace.
Further, the corridors in the palace are called “uguisubari (nightingale floors),” because they make squeaky noises when you walk. Enjoy the bird-like sounds of the floor.
Next to the Ninomaru Palace is the Ninomaru Garden, which was designed by Kobori Enshu, a famous garden designer at the time. It is a Chisenkaiyu-shiki garden (a garden that reproduces famous places using rocks and trees, and people appreciate the view from Shoin-zukuri buildings). In this photo, this is said to be a reproduction of the world of Shinsen Horai which has the power of no aging nor death, and it has been designated as a special scenic spot. Around the pond are huge rocks that look powerful, showing off the authority of the Tokugawa clan.
The history of Nijo Castle
The Nijo Castle has witnessed a major turning point in history. When Tokugawa Ieyasu, who won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1603, was appointed by the Chotei (the Kuge government, with a focus on the emperor) to become Seii Taishogun (appointed by the Chotei, a person at the top of the samurai class who engages in politics), a celebration party was held, gathering Daimyo ( a military commander who is the subordinate of the shogun, reigning over local areas). This means that the Nijo Castle is also the place where the Edo Shogunate was formed, a shogunate which reigned over Japan for the next 250 years.
In 1611, the Nijo Castle was the meeting place for shogun Ieyasu and his former master’s heir Hideyori. It is said that when Ieyasu saw with his own eyes how Hideyori had grown to be a promising young warrior, he felt a sense of crisis for the future of the Edo Shogunate, and decided to destroy the Toyotomi clan, and plunged into the winter and summer siege of Osaka.
Later, when the Tokugawa Shogunate went on to strengthen its political power during third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, they constructed gorgeous Karamon Gate, Ninomaru Palace, and the castle tower in order to be honored by the visit of the emperor. During this time, the original look of the castle as we see it today was completed.
Time passed, and on November 9, 1867, the announcement of “Taiseihokan” was carried out in the large hall of Nijo Castle’s Ninomaru Plalace by 15th shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. It is the declaration by a samurai family, that was in power for a long time, of the return of political power to the Chotei which focuses on the emperor. At the same time, this meant the demise of the samurai society, namely the Tokugawa Shogunate.
After the Taiseihokan, Nijo Castle was managed by the Imperial family, and was called “Nijo Rikyu (Nijo Imperial Villa),” which was also used as accommodation for the emperor. In 1939, the Nijo Rikyu was bestowed to Kyoto City, and then it was open to the public for tourists.
In Japan, there are only four castles that exist today still having a palace as it was at the time of construction, and Nijo Castle is one of them. In 2017, the castle celebrated 150 years since Taiseihokan, and the number of visitors exceeded 2 million, becoming a major tourist spot in Kyoto.
Where to walk /what to do at Nijo Castle
There are many other places of interest and unique shops surrounding Nijo Castle. To the south of the castle is “Shinsenen,” a beautiful garden, which used to be owned by the Imperial family. Along with the Nijo Castle, it is a tourist spot you should go to, which has a gracious appearance from the end of the 8th to 12th century, such as a pond that is said to have a dragon king living in it, and a vermillion-lacquered bridge over this pond.
Further, if you walk east along the Oike-dori Street, and turn north on the Nishinotoin-dori Street, you will see “Mikane-jinja Shrine,” with its eye-catching golden gateway. It is small, but it is believed by the people as the god of money and asset management.
In the areas surrounding Nijo Castle are old Kyo Machiya Townhouses in a quiet residential area, and there are shops that blend into the area, such as old fashioned shops that sell toys and household things for everyday life. In recent years, the area is gathering attention as a fancy spot as cafés that renovated a Machiya townhouse and a famous shaved ice shop and more have been successively starting business. You can enjoy the Nijo Castle area day and night by staying at the “ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto,” where you can look down at the lit up castle at night, or the “Oyado Nunoya”” where you can experience a Machiya Townhouse way of living.
When is Nijo Castle open?
The Nijo Castle opens at 8:45am, and closes at 5:00pm. During the summer, they plan to keep it open longer, from 8:00am to 7:00pm. Last admission is 4:00pm (6:00pm during the summer), but you would probably need a lot of time to see their many cultural assets and gardens, so please be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Admission is 600 yen, and you can buy tickets at the reception desk next to the Higashi Ote-mon Gate. They also have official guided tours, so you can tour the castle while receiving explanation from an expert guide. The castle is closed December 29-31, and sometimes they are closed on other days as well due to events, maintenance, and other reasons so please check their website or contact the castle office beforehand.
How do I get to Nijo Castle? What is the method of access?
The nearest train station from Nijo Castle is the “Nijo-jo mae Station” of the Tozai Line of the Kyoto Municipal Subway Line; or the “NIjo-jo mae” bus stop of the Kyoto-shi Bus. The castle is right in front of the station/bus stop.
I want to go to Nijo Castle! Where should I stay?
We’ll show you some places to stay, within walking distance of Nijo Castle
“ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto”
The hotel stands right across the street from Nijo Castle’s Higashi Ote-mon, so it boasts the best accessibility for touring Nijo Castle.
On the first floor is a diorama of Nijo Castle made of sugar confectionery, reproducing the castle tower which was destroyed by fire. You can see the Nijo Castle of the bygone days, when it was at its highest prosperity.
They have an accommodation plan that should be noted, which is a room with a view of the Nijo Castle you can look down upon, a secured “castle view room.” After enjoying your tour of the castle, you can go back to a hotel room where you can enjoy a gracious sweeping view of the whole castle. ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto is a place you can fully enjoy a Kyoto tour, and they have “Café restaurant Cozy,” a restaurant also popular among the locals, you can have a buffet-style or Japanese-style breakfast.
●Nijojo-mae, Horikawa-dori, Nakagyo-Ku, Kyoto
●【Premium Castle View Twin Room (no meals)】One person: 17,600 yen and up (Nijo Castle admission exchange ticket included, fees are subject to change)
It is accommodation run by a married couple, limiting the number of guests to two groups per day. You will be able to stay at this 130-year-old Kyo Machiya Townhouse. The name “Nunoya (nuno=fabric)” comes from “kaya (mosquito net, a loosely woven fabric that is hung over the bed during the summer)” which they used to sell. You will be able to thoroughly appreciate a traditional Machiya townhouse, characteristic of its narrow and long frontage, often called “the bed of an eel,” and the small but beautiful inner garden preserved from the olden days. If your group is made up of 5 people or more, you can hire the whole place for yourselves, and enjoy some private time with friends and family.
Breakfast is rice cooked in an earthen pot, and “Obanzai, (Kyoto-style home cooking using mainly vegetables),” homemade by the wife. At this inn, you are sure to experience the good old ways of living in Kyoto.
●281, Komeya-cho, Aburanokoji Maruta-cho agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
●8,000 yen per person per night, including breakfast
Souvenirs you should buy at Nijo Castle
“Kyoto City Tourism Association Nijo Castle Shop”
The large rest area of Nijo Castle has gone through renovation and has reopened in 2016. In the rest area is a shop that sells a wide variety of original items such as Kyoto’s representative confectionaries, which is without saying, and also first-class crafted goods such as Kiyomizu-yaki ware and Kyo-yaki ware.
In the “Nijo Castle traditional masterpieces” section, there are collaboration items of new and traditional crafts that are highly recommended for souvenirs, such as Kyoshippo (cloisonne ware) accessories of pierced earrings made using a motif of the wild ginger trefoil coat of arms of the Tokugawa clan, and broaches using the Ranma carvings of the Karamon Gate as motif. Others are a variety of original items such as memo pads with a band or pouches that use the designs of room partition paintings in the Nijo Castle Great Hall. How about owning paintings representative of Japan, designated as important cultural assets, as part of your daily life in the form of small items?
●541, Nijojo-cho, Nijyo-dori Horikawa Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi (inside the Nijo Castle Large rest area)
●8:45-16:45 (changes depending on season)
●closed when Nijo Castle is closed
It is the only Kyo koma (koma=top) shop in Kyoto, located in front of Nijo Castle and Shinsenen Temple. Kyo koma is one of the toys loved by the women that served aristocrats and the Imperial Court long ago. Their colorfulness is a holdover from the days when the tops were made from shreds of kimono wound around a bamboo core. Today, they are made from cotton strings.
If you book by the day before you plan to visit the shop, you can choose a string, and experience making a Kyo Koma (the fee is 2,500 yen). By getting advice from the craftsman, anyone can make a top in about an hour, so it is highly recommended.
There are many other items great for souvenirs such as koma straps and mini tops that use Kyoto vegetables as motif. How about looking for a top that matches the image of the person you want to give a souvenir to?
●1, Shinsenen-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
●Closed on Sundays and Mondays
When in Nijo Castle, enjoy a meal or some tea!
“Green Cafe Style Sanoa”
Walk through the Higashi Ote-mon Gate and turn right. There, you will find a Matcha café inside Nijo Castle Large rest area. They have original sweets such as “Kyo Motenashi,” which is a parfait using various famous Kyoto confectionaries such as Yatsuhashi and Matcha jelly, and “Ogon Soft” that uses the gold-leafed folding screen of Nijo Castle as a motif, and sprinkles gold leaf on Matcha soft ice cream. You can taste them inside a historic place. A perfect snack after walking through the Nijo Castle.
●541, Nijojo-cho, Nijyo-dori Horikawa Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi (inside the Nijo Castle Large rest area)
●8:45-16:45 (changes depending on the season)
●Closed when Nijo Castle is closed
“Alpha food and drink”
It is located near Nijo Castle, in a residential section. The yellow door is eye-catching. Their photogenic food and drinks have aroused interest soon after its opening. It is a fancy café with an atmosphere that is a fusion of different countries.
Their very popular “Kumonoshita (under the cloud) coffee” melts the cotton candy with its steam, so the sugar drips into the coffee little by little. Aside from the coffee, they have matcha (green tea) au lait, cappuccino, and more. A total of 9 types should make anyone happy. What you see on the right of the photo is “Hachiue (potted plant) dessert,” which looks just like a real potted mint! What looks like dirt is crushed chocolate cookie, and there is a Tiramisu underneath. Use the shovel-like spoon to dig in.
●327, Nishidaikoku-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
●Closed on Wednesdays
It is a Machiya Café in a shopping district. The interior of the café is nostalgic, under the Taisho Roman style theme, and you can enjoy their matcha (powdered green tea) and matcha desserts. The person behind all this is Canadian Urasenke school of tea ceremony Associate Professor Randy Channell Soei. Upstairs, you can experience a tea ceremony by Mr. Channell. (Booking by the day before your planned visit is necessary. It takes about an hour.) Of course, it is done in English, so feel free to try it.
●64, Kamikawara-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi (in the Kyoto Sanjokai Shotengai)
●11:00-20:00 (closes 23:00 on Fridays)
●Closed on Thursdays
●Tea ceremony experience: 3,500 yen per person
Summary of Nijo Castle
The Nijo Castle was the stage for a major turning point in history, and is a significant site that played an important role in Japanese history. You will fully enjoy the castle just by seeing the gorgeous paintings on room partitions and the beautiful three gardens where you can tell the different characteristics of garden design from each period, but the castle will stir your imagination of its history by knowing what went on in it. Enjoy a day of Japan culture, art, and history.
“Former Imperial Villa Nijo Castle”
●541, Nijojo-cho, Nijyo-dori Horikawa Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
●075-841-0096 (Nijyo Castle office)
●Admission: 600 yen (official guided tour: Japanese 1,000 yen added; English 2,000 yen added. Starting April 2019, an added 400 yen will be needed to tour the Ninomaru)
●8:45-17:00 (last admission 16:00), there will be changes depending on the season
●Please contact the office for closing days
*The above information was last updated June 20, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
"Like" if you think this article is interesting