As I approach the outside of Nijo Castle, I see a sturdy wall made of large, rectangular bricks across a wide moat. There is no need to conquer the castle anymore: buying a ticket gives you a passage through the eastern gate, Higashi-otemon. Walking around a corner brings me to the karamon, a special type of gate used in various kinds of buildings in Japanese architecture. This one is richly decorated: gold and bright colourful scenes painted on a black background, with remarkable woodcarving as well. Inside, I come to a courtyard, actually the Honourable Carriage Approach, surrounded by carefully cut trees. I take off my shoes, and enter Ninomaru Palace. Inside are four chambers with a display of fine screen paintings. Nijo Castle was constructed in the early 17th century as residence for the Tokugawa shoguns.
Once outside, I walk past a pond with man-made islets, yet another example of Japanese garden design, and continue to the inner moat which I cross to get to Honmaru Palace. Apart from some traditional buildings with decorated roofs and Honmaru Garden, I climb the donjon at the southwestern side of the square palace grounds. It gives great views over the inner garden and beyond, and I retrace my steps to the bridge again, and walk all around the inner moat. Strangely enough, I am the only one: all the other plenty visitors cross the bridge on the western side to exit Honmaru Palace. Too bad there are storage buildings and it is not allowed to walk up to the moat, because that would give great views up the walls of this 19th century castle.
When I reach the western bridge of Honmaru Palace, three Japanese schoolboys approach me and read questions from a booklet. It turns out they have to practice their English, and interview me by painstakingly reading texts from their booklet. I wonder if they actually understand my answers. When they are done, they give me a present in a beautiful Japanese paper bag - it is this kind of interaction that I love in Japan. I walk the northern side of the Nijo Castle grounds to Seiryu-en garden, designed by a famous Japanese garden designer Kobori Enshu. It is indeed a remarkable example of garden, with small stone bridges over an irregularly shaped pond with stone lanterns amidst the boulders and sharply cut shrubbery. At the east side, I visit the gallery with some original paintings - most of the the ones in Ninomaru Palace are copies. I cannot resist the temptation to have another look at the karamon before leaving Nijo Castle and walk from the tranquillity of the castle grounds to the bustle of Kyoto outside.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Nijo Castle (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Nijo Castle.
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