Discover the Enchanting Nijo Castle: History and Features.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the history, features, and access to Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan.

Nijo Castle is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visitors can appreciate its beauty through meticulously preserved intricate wall paintings and a magnificent garden that have been cherished for centuries.

If you’re curious to learn more about Nijo Castle, be sure to check out this article.

Essential Information about Nijo Castle

Let’s start by checking out some basic information about Nijo Castle.

Nijo Castle

  • Address: 541 Nijojo-cho, Nijo-dori Horikawa Nishiiru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Get off at Nijo Castle Station on the subway.
  • Phone Number: 075-841-0096
  • Closed on:
    • New Year’s holidays
    • Tuesdays (January, July, August, December)
  • Opening Hours: 8:45 AM – 4:00 PM
    • (Castle closes at 5:00 PM, Nijo Maru viewing reception until 4:10 PM)
  • Admission Fees:
    • General Admission: 800 yen
    • Middle and High School Students: 400 yen
    • Elementary School Students: 300 yen
    • Note: General admission, when combined with Nijo Maru Goten (Nijo Maru Palace) viewing, is 1,300 yen. Middle and high school students and younger can also view Nijo Maru Goten with the admission fee only.
  • Official Website: Nijo Castle

The history of Nijo Castle

Kyoto is home to several historical castles, but one that often comes to mind first is Nijo Castle.
Let’s start by exploring the essential details of this iconic attraction, which is considered a representative sightseeing spot in Kyoto.

A flat castle layout designed by the Tokugawa family

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, built Nijo Castle. This castle, with a unique concentric layout, was completed in the year 1603 during the Keicho era.

The roofs of each layer of the main keep are adorned with different patterns of gables, showcasing elegance and proclaiming the glory of the Tokugawa shogunate and the Tokugawa family.

Nijo Castle has witnessed significant historical events, including the “Taisei Hokan” initiated by the 15th shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

It’s worth noting that during the Sengoku period, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi also built a castle named Nijo, but it’s a different fortress from the Nijo Castle that exists in Kyoto today.

In 1994, Nijo Castle was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Nijo Castle is a precious architectural gem from the Momoyama period, adorned with numerous cultural treasures and scenic beauty. In 1994, it earned its spot as one of the “Cultural Properties of Ancient Kyoto” and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site alongside nearby temples and shrines.

When planning a visit to Nijo Castle, it’s essential to check the official website in advance for the opening hours, reception times, and days when the castle is closed.

The castle is open from 8:45 AM to 4:00 PM, with the last entry at 4:10 PM. If you wish to explore the Ninomaru Palace, make sure to complete the entry process by 4:10 PM.

To preserve the valuable cultural assets such as the palace and wall paintings, there are specific days when the castle is closed, and access to the Ninomaru Palace is restricted.

The castle is closed on December 29th to 31st. Even when Nijo Castle is open, access to the Ninomaru Palace is suspended on every Tuesday in January, July, August, and December, as well as from December 26th to January 3rd.

The characteristics of Nijo Castle

In Nijo Castle, there are many significant attractions like national treasures and cultural assets that make it a key spot for sightseeing.
Let’s explore the distinctive features and highlights of each.

Three charming gardens with distinctive atmospheres.

In Nijo Castle, there are three distinct gardens with different charms.
One is the Ninomaru Garden, created during the construction of Nijo Castle, the second is the Honmaru Garden, modified under the orders of Emperor Meiji, and the third is the Seiryu-en, a Japanese-Western blended garden with a flowing stream.

Ninomaru Garden

Ninomaru Garden is a traditional Japanese-style garden located next to the Ninomaru Goten (Ninomaru Palace) at Nijo Castle.
It was originally designed when Nijo Castle was built, with later renovations during the Tokugawa Iemitsu era.

For over 200 years, the garden remained untouched by the shoguns until the visit of the 14th shogun, Iemochi.
Upon the arrival of the 15th shogun, Yoshinobu, the garden had fallen into disrepair, with withered trees and a dry pond.
However, after the Meiji Restoration, the Imperial Household Agency carried out more than five restoration projects, transforming it into the picturesque landscape we see today.

In 1953, it was designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty by the government, recognizing its cultural and historical significance.
It continues to be a popular tourist destination, preserving its rich heritage for visitors to experience.

Honmaru Garden

Located to the south of the Honmaru Goten (Honmaru Palace), Honmaru Garden underwent a significant transformation under the orders of Emperor Meiji.
It was redesigned from a dry landscape garden to its current form, influenced by the Western-style garden trend of that era, and was completed in 1896.
The present-day garden features neatly laid-out lawns, along with strategically placed lanterns and garden stones, creating an impressive and picturesque landscape.


Originally, the area where Seiryu-en now stands at Nijo Castle was believed to have pathways and a portion of the main keep.
During the reign of Iemitsu, the main keep was relocated, leaving the space temporarily vacant.
It was later occupied by samurai residences tasked with managing the castle. In the early Meiji era, the area was converted into green space, and additional construction took place in 1916, transforming it into a sparse forest-style garden.

In 1965, using elements from the estate of the affluent Kyoto merchant family, the Kado Kura family (including the Waraku-an and Kohun-tei structures and garden stones), Seiryu-en was established.
The eastern section features a Western-style garden with lush lawns, while the western side showcases a Japanese-style garden.

Famous Japanese Wall Paintings in the World of Japanese Art

In the Ninomaru Palace of Nijo Castle, there are over 3600 wall paintings, with 1016 of them designated as Important Cultural Properties.
These wall paintings, known as fusuma-e and byobu-e, are painted on sliding doors and folding screens.
The wall paintings in the time of Iemitsu were created by artists from the Kano school, including Kano Tan’yu.

Since 1972, reproductions of the original paintings have been created for preservation purposes, and the replicas now adorn the walls of the Shikidai, Ohiroma, Kuro Shoin, and Shiro Shoin within the Ninomaru Palace.

The actual paintings are housed in the “Nijo Castle Wall Painting Exhibition and Preservation Hall.”
In this exhibition hall, the wall paintings are arranged within movable panels, allowing visitors to experience them similar to how they are displayed in the Ninomaru Palace.
These panels are typically moved and showcased four times a year, presenting different rooms or themes.

Points of Interest at Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle boasts eight main attractions.
In addition to the aforementioned Important Cultural Properties and designated national treasures, there are various ways to enjoy the castle, such as the gardens and changing scenery that transform with each season.
It has become an enchanting destination not only for locals but also for visitors from around the world.

The Ninomaru Palace (National Treasure)

The Ninomaru Palace, consisting of six buildings, stands as a crucial architectural marvel in Japanese history. Adorned with masterful wall paintings and balcony carvings crafted by the Kano school, a prominent art movement, the interior preserves the cultural zenith of its time.

The palace comprises distinct sections like the Waiting Room, Shikidai, Grand Hall, Sotetsu-no-ma connecting the Grand Hall and Black Study, Black Study, and White Study. Entering from the carriage porch, visitors first encounter the “Waiting Room,” the largest in the palace. Inside, it divides into three rooms, known as Ima-no-ma, Ni-no-ma, and San-no-ma, often referred to as the “Tiger Room” due to the paintings on the sliding doors and walls.

Next is the Shikidai, serving as a place for presenting offerings to the shogun. The eternal symbol of pine trees is depicted in the wall paintings, symbolizing continuity.

The Grand Hall includes Ima-no-ma, Ni-no-ma, San-no-ma, and Yon-no-ma. Ima-no-ma and Ni-no-ma gained historical significance in 1867 when the 15th shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, performed the “Taisei Hokan” (transfer of power to the emperor). Originally designed for official meetings with the shogun, Ima-no-ma embodies the features of the shoin-zukuri architectural style.

San-no-ma served as the daimyo’s waiting room, featuring impressive lattice carvings. Yon-no-ma functioned as a storage space for weapons during the shogun’s visit, showcasing the renowned wall painting “Matsu-taka-zu.”

The Black Study, historically known as the Small Grand Hall during the Edo period, was used as an official space following the Grand Hall. Ima-no-ma and Ni-no-ma, also called the “Sakura Rooms,” display cherry blossom paintings, capturing the seasonal essence.

The White Study, formerly called the “Gozasho-no-ma” during the Edo period, is believed to have served as the shogun’s living and sleeping quarters. In contrast to other buildings, the paintings here exhibit serene ink wash paintings.

Moreover, the corridors of Ninomaru Palace feature “uguisu-bari,” creating a distinct squeaking sound when walked upon. This sound results from the interaction between the floorboards and nails placed beneath, generating a subtle melody as people move through the corridor.

The Higashi-Oote-Mon

The Higashi-Ote-Mon is the main gate of Nijo Castle, designated as an Important Cultural Property. The existing gate was built around 1662, originally as a two-story tower gate (yagura-mon) with a turret on top. However, it was later modified to a single-story gate to prevent the Emperor from being looked down upon during imperial processions.

By 1663, it took on its present appearance, featuring stone droppers in the front lattice window, revealing its dual function as both an offensive and defensive structure.

The Karomon (Important Cultural Property)

Built in 1625, a year before the imperial visit, the Karomon gate is adorned with “Kara-hafu” (Chinese-style gables) on its front and rear, which gives it its name. Sometimes referred to as the “Gokoumon,” this gate features elaborate carvings, including auspicious symbols like cranes, turtles, and pine, bamboo, and plum motifs. The intricate sculptures of dragons, tigers, and Chinese lions contribute to the gate’s opulent decoration.

The Southeast Sumiyagura

Built in 1626 for the Emperor’s visit, the Southeast Corner Turret at Nijo Castle is designated as an Important Cultural Property. Initially constructed as a watchtower, it later served as a storage space for weapons.

Larger than the Southwest Corner Turret, this turret features stone droppers in the bay windows, similar to the East Main Gate, and historically housed firearms, highlighting its dual role in both offense and defense.

Originally, Nijo Castle had a total of nine turrets at the four corners of the outer and inner moats and the north-central section of the outer moat. However, due to a fire in 1788, only the Southeast Corner Turret and the Southwest Corner Turret remain today, as the others were destroyed in the blaze.

The Honmaru Goten

Originally, the Honmaru Goten was nearly the same size as the Ninomaru Goten and adorned with Kano school wall paintings. However, it was destroyed in the massive Tenmei Fire of 1788.

After a period without reconstruction, the Honmaru Goten was rebuilt during the late Edo period to serve as the residence of the 15th shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Unfortunately, in 1881, this palace was dismantled.

The current Honmaru Goten is a reconstruction dating back to 1893 when the structure of the former Katsura Imperial Villa in the northeast part of the Kyoto Imperial Palace was relocated to the Honmaru area. Recognized as an Important Cultural Property, it preserves the architectural legacy of an esteemed imperial residence.

The Tenshukaku-ato

The Tenshukaku-ato is situated in the southwest part of the Honmaru, and in the past, it housed a five-story, six-tier castle keep that was relocated from Fushimi Castle. Unfortunately, it was struck by lightning and burned down in 1750. Since then, it has never been reconstructed, and now all that remains are the stone walls. If you climb to the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Honmaru Goten, the Honmaru Garden, and the cityscape of Kyoto, making it an excellent observation point.

The Ninomaru Garden

The Ninomaru Garden is a traditional Japanese garden designed in the pond and promenade style, created during the construction of Nijo Castle. It features carefully arranged rocks and plants, providing a picturesque setting that changes with the seasons. Originally designed in 1626 and renovated to offer views from various angles, including the Grand Hall of the Ninomaru Palace, the garden became a designated Special Place of Scenic Beauty in 1953.

The Seiryu-en Garden

The Seiryu-en Garden, located on the north side within Nijo Castle, is a blend of traditional Japanese and Western-style gardens, featuring a pond and promenade layout along with a grassy Western-style garden.

In 1965 (Showa 40), the garden was completed by incorporating part of the residence of the wealthy merchant Kakunokami Rokuemon’s mansion, which was originally situated along the Ichino-funairi of the Takase River. Approximately 800 garden stones, trees, and an additional 300 notable stones from around the country were contributed to enhance the garden.

The “Waraku-an” in Seiryu-en is a tea house that was relocated from the former Kakunokami Rokuemon residence and expanded with a tea room donated by the Urasenke school, offering a peaceful spot for relaxation.

While the interior of the Kogun-tei is usually not open to the public, you can enjoy its exterior. Sometimes, it opens for limited periods, allowing visitors to dine, and it also serves as a venue for weddings.


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