Nijō Castle

Nijō Castle
Kyoto, Japan

The karamon main gate to Ninomaru Palace
Type Plains castle (平城)
Site information
Owner Kyoto
Open to
the public
Site history
Built 1679
Built by Tokugawa shogunate
In use 1626–1939

Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō) is a flatland castle in Kyoto, Japan. The castle consists of two concentric rings (Kuruwa) of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by buildings.

It is one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


Plan of Nijō Castle ----

1. Great Eastern Gate (Higashi-Ōte-mon)
2. Guard house
3. Kara-mon
4. Honourable Carriage Approach
5. Ninomaru Palace
6. Kuroshoin
7. Shiroshoin (shogun's quarters)
8. Ninomaru Garden
9. Pond
10. Kitchen
11. Meal preparation room
12. Storage buildings
13. Resting room
14. Toilets

15. Southern Gate (Minami-mon)
16. Cherry-trees grove
17. Plum-trees grove
18. West Gate (Nishi-mon)
19. Honmaru
20. Bridge
21. Honmaru Garden
22. Donjon
23. Waraku-an (teahouse)
24. Koun-tei (teahouse)
25. Great North Gate (Kita-Ōte-mon)
28. Green Garden
27. Gallery

In 1601, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of Nijō Castle, which was completed during the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1626. Parts of Fushimi Castle, such as the main tower and the karamon, were moved here in 1625-26.[1] It was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The Tokugawa Shogunate used Edo as the capital city, but Kyoto continued to be the home of the Imperial Court. Kyoto Imperial Palace is located north-east of Nijo Castle.

The central keep, or Tenshu, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1750.

In 1788, the Inner Ward was destroyed by a city-wide fire. The site remained empty until it was replaced by a prince's residence transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1893.

In 1867, the Ninomaru Palace, in the Outer Ward, was the stage for the declaration by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, returning the authority to the Imperial Court. Next year the Imperial Cabinet was installed in the castle. The palace became imperial property and was declared a detached palace. During this time, the Tokugawa hollyhock crest was removed wherever possible and replaced with the imperial chrysanthemum.

In 1939, the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public the following year.

In the 21st century, typhoons have periodically caused sections of plaster to peel off the walls after exposure to rain and wind.[2]


Inner walls and moat of the Nijō Castle

Nijō Castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, each consisting of a wall and a wide moat. The outer wall has three gates while the inner wall has two. In the southwest corner of the inner wall, there are foundations of a five-story keep, destroyed by a fire in 1750. The inner walls surround the Innver Ward, which contain Honmaru ("Inner Ward") Palace with its garden. Ninomaru ("Second Ward") Palace, the kitchens, guard house and several gardens are located in the Outer Ward, between the two main rings of fortifications.

Ninomaru Palace

Ninomaru palace of Nijō Castle
Tokugawa Yoshinobu in the Kuroshoin
Map of the Ninomaru Palace (click for detailed view and explanation)
Detail of the ceiling of Ninomaru Palace

The 3300 square meter Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿 Ninomaru Gōten) consists of five connected separate buildings and is built almost entirely of Hinoki cypress. The decoration includes lavish quantities of gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings, intended to impress visitors with the power and wealth of the shoguns. The sliding doors and walls of each room are decorated with wall paintings by artists of the Kanō school.

The castle is an excellent example of social control manifested in architectural space. Low-ranking visitors were received in the outer regions of the Ninomaru, whereas high-ranking visitors were shown the more subtle inner chambers. Rather than attempt to conceal the entrances to the rooms for bodyguards (as was done in many castles), the Tokugawas chose to display them prominently. Thus, the construction lent itself to expressing intimidation and power to Edo-period visitors.

The building houses several different reception chambers, offices and the living quarters of the shogun, where only female attendants were allowed. One of the most striking features of the Ninomaru Palace are the "nightingale floors" (uguisubari) in the corridors. To protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins, the builders constructed the floors of the corridors in such a way as to squeak like birds when anyone walks on them.

Some of the rooms in the castle also contained special doors where the shogun's bodyguard could sneak out to protect him.

The room sequence starting at the entrance is:

The Ōhiroma (Great Hall) is the central core of the Ninomaru Palace and consists of four chambers:

as well as the Musha-kakushi-no-ma (Bodyguards' Chamber) and the Sotetsu-no-ma (Japanese fern-palm chamber).

The rear sections are the Kuroshoin (Inner Audience Chamber) and Shiroshoin (Shogun's living quarters)

The main access to the Ninomaru is through the karamon, a court and the mi-kurumayose or "honourable carriages approach".[1]

Honmaru Palace

Honmaru Palace

Honmaru Palace (本丸御殿 Honmaru Goten) has a surface area of 1600 square meters. The complex has four parts: living quarters, reception and entertainment rooms, entrance halls and kitchen area. The different areas are connected by corridors and courtyards. The architectural style is late Edo period. The palace displays paintings by several famous masters, such as Kanō Eigaku.

Honmaru Palace was originally similar to Ninomaru Palace. The original structures were replaced by the present structures between 1893 and 1894, by moving one part of the former Katsura Palace within the Kyoto Imperial Enclosure (Kyoto Gyoen, the enclosure surrounding the Kyoto Imperial Palace) to the inner ward of Nijō Castle, as part of the systematic clearing of the disused residences and palaces in the Imperial Enclosure after the Imperial Court moved to Tokyo in 1869. In its original location the palace had 55 buildings, but only a small part was relocated. In 1928 the enthronement banquet of the Showa Emperor (Emperor Hirohito) was held here.[3]

Honmaru Palace


The pond of the Ninomaru Garden

The castle area has several gardens and groves of cherry and Japanese plum trees. The Ninomaru garden was designed by the landscape architect and tea master Kobori Enshu. It is located between the two main rings of fortifications, next to the palace of the same name. The garden has a large pond with three islands and features numerous carefully placed stones and topiary pine trees.

The Seiryū-en garden is the most recent part of Nijō Castle. It was constructed in 1965 in the northern part of the complex, as a facility for the reception of official guests of the city of Kyoto and as a venue for cultural events. Seiryū-en has two tea houses and more than 1000 carefully arranged stones.

See also


  1. 1 2 Schmorleitz, pg. 82
  2. "Typhoon Rains Kill at Least 25 and Maroon Thousands in Japan," New York Times. September 5, 2011; retrieved 2011-09-05; see also 台風6号で、二条城の重文櫓の漆喰はがれる (Typhoon #6, The Plaster Peels at the Tower, Nijo Castle's Important National Treasure"), Yomiuri Shimbun. 20 July 2011.
  3. Schmorleitz, pg. 82.


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Coordinates: 35°0′51″N 135°44′51″E / 35.01417°N 135.74750°E / 35.01417; 135.74750

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