Friday, March 9, 2012

kyoto: nijō castle

After checking out the free temples, I caught a bus to the Nijō Castle which was just a couple stops away. The only thing I really know about this castle is that its known for having nightingale floors. The floors were constructed in such a way that anyone who steps on the floor would cause it to squeak and was used as a security measure against intruders. I loved all the English information that could be found here. Not only were there English signs in each of the rooms describing their usage there was also signs located on the grounds that you could press a button and have information told to you in several languages. The only thing was that it had started raining and since most of these signs were outside I only managed to listen to some of them and they went on for awhile so I didn't stay till the end.

Nijō Castle is made up of two rings of fortifications. Basically if enemies managed to cross the outer moat and walls, they would still have to cross an additional moat and fortification before they could gain access to the Ninomaru Palace where the shogun resided. I guess in this context Nijō Castle isn't the name of one structure but rather the name for the entire complex. One of the attractions of the castle is the Karamon Gate, which allows access to the Ninomaru Palace, was under renovation and so I couldn't see it in all its Chinese glory. Its expected to be closed until September 30, 2013! Bummer that it's gonna take that long.
The Ninomaru Palace is just on the other side of the Karamon Gate. The outside isn't very impressive but inside the floors are made up of tatami mats and sliding screen doors. No pictures or video taking were allowed inside the palace. What a bummer! So you can pretty much guess what I spent the entire time trying to do while inside the place. If you guessed sneakily taking pics and videos then you guessed right! I was so obsessed with trying to capture everything down on camera that I totally forgot about the nightingale floors. I was getting annoyed by all the squeaking sounds I was hearing when I snapped out of my sneaky phase and realize that those squeaks were the famous nightingale floors at work! I had to take a moment to rush around the hallway to make the floors squeak.
Most of my pictures came out blurry since I had to snap the pictures at around chest level where my camera was hanging and so I had no idea what I was capturing most of the time. Lol. The videos I have showed the rooms in better detail but when I tried to screen capture them to upload as a pic - they became grainy. In the beginning of the tour the rooms consisted of waiting and audience rooms. Only the highest ranked officials got to enter the main audience room where the shogun was seated while the lower ranked officials had to stay in adjoining rooms without a direct view of the shogun. Right next to where the shogun was seated was a closet or a pair of doors with red tassels hanging on them is where the shogun's bodyguards stood by ready to defend the shogun if needed. The inner rooms were the living quarters of the shogun and only female attendants were allowed entry. Besides the lavishly painted doors and ceilings where gold leaf was used in abundance, there was also some rooms that had wooden wall screens that had different pictures on each side. In one room the wood carving was of a peacock but if you saw the wood carving on its opposite side, from the adjacent room, you would see a bunch of flowers.
Honmaru Palace is another palace on the grounds but is only accessible during special events. Despite the rain, I walked around the grounds trying to enjoy the different gardens and plum trees they had here. Even tossed my umbrella to the side so that I could take some pictures of me cheesing it in front of the plum blossoms.
During cherry blossom festival the grounds would be amazing, but now most of the trees are bare and remind me of those monster trees that grab kids from childhood scary movies.

The Details
Nijō Castle
541 Nijojo-cho, Nijo-dori Horikawa-nishi-iru, Nakagoyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8301
tel: (075) 841-0096
hours: castle 8:45am-4:00pm; ninomaru palace 9:00am-4:00pm  - gates are closed at 5pm
closed: every Tuesday in Jan, July, Aug and Dec.
admission fee: 600 yen
directions: from the Kyoto Bus Station you can take Bus Line #9,#50, and #101. Get off at Nijojo-mae stop.
english info about Nijō Castle
guide map of ninomaru palace

I didn't get either of the above documents when I visited, they provide more information about the different rooms in the palace and about the different structures on the castle grounds than the brochure I was given. Both of the PDF files came directly from the official website of the castle so at least its legit!

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