Nijo Castle (二条城)

Nijo Castle(二条城) is a former imperial villa in central Kyoto. One of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Nijo Castle abounds with significant historic and cultural properties. Ancient buildings here model the extravagant architecture and design of the early Edo Period. Ravishing interiors house extravagant murals and imposing halls in archetypal Edo style.

The castle was first built in 1603 under orders from Tokugawa Ieyasu(徳川家康), who established the Tokugawa Shogunate(徳川幕府), bringing unity and stability to Japan after a period of turmoil and civil war. This marked the beginning of the Edo Period(江戸時代), a time when Japan’s economy prospered and its culture and arts flourished. Nijo Castle retained a powerful symbol of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s rule until the Meiji Restoration(明治維新) marked an end to the Edo Period in 1868, centuries after its construction. The castle hosted visits from various emperors and shoguns during its heyday and became an imperial villa in 1884.

Basically, the castle is surrounded by a layer of kuruwa(曲輪), or castle walls. with a moats, watch towers, bridges, and gates. Higahi ote-mon(東大手門), the main east gate, leads to a courtyard before entering Ninomaru palace(二の丸御殿). Another layer of kurawa and the base of the keep tower(天守台) protect Honmaru palace(本丸御殿) within.

Tonan Sumi-yagura(東南隅櫓) is the southeast watchtower stationed on the outer kurawa.

The entry to Ninomaru Palace is an ornate kara-mon(唐門), a gate in distinct bowed Japanese style designating nobility and elegance.

As the only surviving example of such a fortified palace complex in Japan, Ninomaru Palace remains much the same as it was during the first decades of its use. Built in archetypal architecture style early Edo Period, the palace houses thousands of paintings in lavish interiors. The rooms in the palace were built to impress visitors and express the authority of the shogunate. Some served as meeting rooms, others as residences or guest rooms.

Ninomaru Palace is made mostly of cypress wood. The interior contains opulent designs, paintings, and carvings with extensive use of gold leaf. Each room, or ma(間), has a different theme. Murals portray natural landscapes, trees, and animals. There are even paintings of tigers and leopards, neither of which are native to Japan or anywhere nearby. The artists would have only had tiger skins brought back from abroad for reference. The “tiger room”(虎の間) served as a waiting room and was the first view for visiting feudal lords.