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Japan: Nijo Castle

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Nijo Castle | Japan | Asia

[Visited: November 2015]

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.

Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Inner moat with defensive walls protecting Honmaru Palace

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.

Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Richly decorated karamon through which you can reach Ninomaru Palace

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.

Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Meticulously maintained Seiryu-en garden of Nijo Castle grounds
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Detailed view of Seiryu-en garden with stone lantern
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Quiet corner of Nijo Castle complex near Seiryu-en garden
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Tall trees over the northern gardens of Nijo Castle complex
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Detail of one of the many doors of Nijo Castle
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Close-up of roofs at Ninomaru Palace
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Bridge spanning the inner moat at the west side of Honmaru Palace
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Traditional building behind trees in Honmaru Palace complex
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Open field with traditional buildings inside the Honmaru Palace of Nijo Castle
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Gate at the southern side of the inner moat of Nijo Castle complex
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Looking up the south-eastern corner of Nijo Castle from the outside of the complex
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Trees in autumn colours in the Green Garden of Nijo Castle
Picture of Nijo Castle (Japan): Donjon and inner moat of Nijo Castle, surrounding Honmaru Palace

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