Nijo: The best castle in Japan?

Nijojo, as it is affectionately known, is an amazing castle in Kyoto, but the strange thing is most tourists seem to neglect it in favour of visiting the city’s more famous temples.

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Nijo Castle was built in 1626 and consists of two main fortifications: the Ninomaru Palace, which served as the residence and office of the Japanese ‘shogun’ during his visits to Kyoto, and the Honmaru Palace, which was a secondary palace structure used as a keep for supplies (incidentally this palace is not always open to the public). Over its entire 280,000 sqm of grounds, there are plenty of amazing gardens here too, all of which are manicured in the classical Japanese style. Nowadays, Nijojo is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I have seen Hiroshima Castle and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and those are fine castle structures, but for some reason I loved being at Nijo more. I don’t know why that is; possibly due to the serene scenery of Kyoto, rather than the urban sprawl of the other aforementioned cities. And you also have to remember that when you are in Kyoto (and this also applies to Siem Reap in Cambodia), it is very easy to get ‘temple-d out’, and this trip to Nijo Castle was a nice change of pace for me.

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The Nightingale Floor was the highlight of my trip to Nijojo. This wooden floor placed throughout the corridors of the Ninomaru Palace was used to prevent sneak attacks from assassins due to it being designed in such a way that it would ferociously squeak whenever anybody set foot on it. At the time of my visit, there were surprisingly few tourists, so I got to check out the squeaks myself, and you have to say that even for an era so long ago, they had some ingenious ideas!

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As much as I loved the temples and gates of Nijo Castle, I just as much enjoyed the grounds and gardens here as well. There is always something enchanting about waling around Japanese gardens, and I first noticed this in my time in Tokyo when I visited the Meiji Shrine, which has some incredible gardens within its immense complex. Here at Nijojo, both palaces have their own garden designs, and it was a pleasure to walk through each of them and enjoy the Kinki springtime.

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From Kyoto Station, where I was based during my backpacking in the city, it took me around 15 minutes on City Bus 101, and cost me around 600YEN for admission to Nijo Castle, which is quite reasonable for a visit to what I consider to be the best castle in the whole country!

Would you agree that Nijojo is the best Japanese castle of them all? Let me know in the comments section below! Finally, please check out this great article on Nijo Castle with some fantastic photos by Girllilikoi.

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11 thoughts on “Nijo: The best castle in Japan?

  1. Nijo is my favourite Japanese castle, too. There is something serenely majestic about it. I love that you can walk around the Ninomaru palace, following in the footsteps of the Daimyo, kept away from Edo by the Shogun and forced to wait in the outlying rooms for a chance to have an audience with him. The gardens are beautiful, too. We did the night viewing of cherry blossom a couple of years ago, which was spookily beautiful.

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