Guest Author - Melanie Shintaku
The Nijo Jo Castle was built in 1603, it was regarded as the official residence, as well as home for the Tokugawa Shoguns but in line with Japanese standards, the Nijo Jo Castle is not a proper Castle because it doesn’t have the usual fortresses, as well as supply houses of war which is the feature of most Castles in Japan.
History has it that during the time of the Shoguns, Ninjas disguised as gardeners were all over the Nijo Jo Castle and with just a gesture or clap from the Shogun, were instantly summoned them to his aid.
Ieyasu Tokugawa was the first shogun to live in the Nijo Jo Castle, he stayed in the Nijo Jo Castle for 74years, from the year 1542 to 1616.
One of the most striking feature of the Nijo Jo Castle, is its beautiful archway called Kara Mon it is also known as the Chinese Gate, because its designs were Influenced, by the popular Chinese designs of that period.
The designs of the Kara Mon, were originally beautiful flower decorations, with drawings of Dragons, Tigers, Cranes and the crest of the Tokugawa family but in 1868 the crest of the Tokugawa family, was changed to the chrysanthemum, which is the symbol of the Imperial family, the crest of the Tokugawa family was changed because the last Shogun resigned.
The Kara Mon is at the entrance to the Honmaru Palace, so when visiting the Nijo Jo Castle, be sure to take time to study, the intricate carvings as well as beautiful designs of the Kara Mon.
Once inside the Nijo Jo Castle, you are bound to see the beautiful carvings, that adorn the arches of the Nijo Jo Castle, these carvings offer a special kind of feature to visitors because when you continually gaze on each side, you would be surprised with a different view of the wooden carving!
Visitors would also see, the remaining symbols of power, which are the beautiful drawings of Tigers and Pine trees, which were said to be painted, by the famous artisans of the "Kano" school.
A visit to the Nijo Jo Castle, isn’t complete without a view of its beautiful gardens, it is yet another beautiful "site" to see, especially with how the rocks are strategically placed in the garden, the rocks are specially placed upright because in Japan it symbolizes strength.
In the past especially during the time of the Shogunate, fallen leaves or blossoms were regarded as an evil omen because it was a reminder of death, so they were never allowed to remain, on the grounds of the Nijo Jo Castle gardens.
Another distinguishing feature of the Nijo Jo Castle, is the famous Uguisu Bari which is also known as the Nightingale floors, the Uguisu Bari is a specially designed wooden floor, when you walk on it you hear chirping sounds, just like that of a Nightingale!
As a result the Uguisu Bari was not only designed, for its Architectural beauty but also for protection, as anyone with bad intent could not easily sneak upon the Uguisu Bari because the chirping sounds, would immediately alert the inhabitants of the Castle.
Today, most of the original buildings in the Nijo Jo Castle sadly no longer exist, this is due to fires and the many disasters that have ravaged the area, also the Honmaru Palace which was originally, in the Kyoto Imperial Grounds for about fifty years, was later moved in 1894 to the Nijo Jo Castle, thus becoming the newest building, on the grounds of the Nijo Jo Castle.
The Nijo Jo Castle is a real delight for any tourist, to delve into Japan’s past, do take time to out visit this beautiful and historic Castle, you will find it to be a truly memorable experience.