From Japan: Nijo Castle Looking Good!

Nijo Castle

It took a year and a half of renovating, but Karamon gate at Nijo Castle, a World Heritage in Kyoto, is now open and awaiting tourists.

Due to centuries of medieval war, Japan has quite a few castles lying around.  Ask any of the locals which one they recommend checking out, they’ll usually say “Himeji Castle.”  Yes, it’s large and quite beautiful standing majestically with clouds drifting in behind.  But personally, I always felt Himeji resembled a “typical castle’ in Japan.  For me, it’s all about Nijo!

For one thing, Nijo Castle – in comparison to others in the country – doesn’t even resemble a castle, because it’s flatland rather than vertical.  In 1601, immediately after taking over Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa ordered Nijo Castle to be constructed as the Kyoto residence for the shogun.  A sort of “second castle,” or “a castle away from castle.”  It took 25 years – by then, Iemitsu Tokugawa was in rule – to complete.

Unlike Osaka or Odawara Castle, Nijo is still in its original state.  No museum, gift shop, or elevator inside.  It’s cool to stroll around and imagine “this is where the shogun greeted visitors,” or “that’s where the shogun sat and ate dinner,” or maybe “this is where the shogun would have played the PS3 if they had one.’  Of course, Nijo Castle has been fixed up and remodelled over the last 400 years for preservation, but you certainly get a feel for what it may have been like as a shogun or samurai living there.

What’s also cool, is the way Nijo Castle has been designed to be utterly ninja-proof.  You’ll notice the “sparrow floors” whistling as you walk around.  Each individual board on the floor is connected by a kind of metal latch, designed to squeak when stepped on.  Also, the inner grounds are covered in white stones, making it difficult to tread across silently.  And hidden rooms designed for bodyguards to stand in are arranged sporadically within the castle, where they would await to burst out in case of signs of danger.  Watch out, Shinobi!

So if you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, I’d highly recommend checking out Nijo Castle.  It may not be as well-known as Himeji, but it certainly inspires the imagination.

written by Damon Finos