Nijo Castle (near the Imperial Palace) was built to protect Kyoto from Ieyasu Tokugawa, then used by him and was completed by the the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu in 1626. During the Edo Period it was used by the shoguns on their rare visits to Kyoto. In 1863, the formalities which ended the rule of the shoguns and restored power to the Emperor took place here.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo-jo is a classic Japanese-style castle with famous sliding door screen paintings by the Kano school. Located almost in the center of Kyoto, the castle is part of a huge park-like compound that includes several palace buildings which best known for its unusually ornate interiors and so-called nightingale floors. The latter were designed to make bird-like squeaking sounds when walked upon, a warning of possible intruders. The sound is produced by floorboards that are attached to their supports by clamps that allow the boards to move up and down, producing the noise.

Nijo castle was originally built in 1603 as the official resident of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. It was completed in 1626 by the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, with some structures transferred from Fushimi Castle, built in the Momoyama period (1573-1614). Nijo Castle is one of the finest examples of Momoyama architecture incorporated into early Edo period building designs, and is famous for the lavish paintings and carving inisde the main building that were ordered by Iemitsu.

Location: 541 Nijo-jo-jo-cho, Horikawa-nishi-iru, Nijo-jo-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, Tel: 075-841-0096 Hours Open: 8:45-5:00pm (Enter by 16:00) Closed: New Year's holiday (December 26-January 4) and Tuesdays in December, January, July and August. Admission: Adults: 620 yen;. Junior High and High School Students: 350 yen. Elementary School Students: 200 yen. Admission to Ninomaru Palace: is 1,030 yen. Getting There: A short walk from City Bus Stop Nijo-jo-mae (from JR Kyoto Station/Hankyu Railway Karasuma Station), or Nijo-jo-mae Station on the Tozai Subway Line. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Guide ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

History of Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founding shogun (supreme samurai warlord) of the Edo period (1603-1867). He commissioned ornate and unique architectural structures, some of which still stand today: The design of the current castle was the result of a large-scale renovation started in 1624 by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-51), the third shogun. The work was undertaken to prepare for a visit from Emperor Gomizunoo (1596-1680). At the time, the Kano school was commissioned to paint shohekiga on room partitions.

Nijo Castle was built to accommodate shogunal and imperial visits to Kyoto and was a venue for political affairs during the Edo period. Tokugawa Ieyasu, appointed as shogun by the emperor, was celebrated by court nobles in the castle after its completion in 1603. During the Osaka no Jin (Siege of Osaka) from 1614 to 1615, in which Ieyasu defeated rival Toyotomi Hideyori (1593-1615), the castle served as the headquarters of Ieyasu’s forces. The castle also served as the stage of the shogunate’s demise. In 1867, the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913), announced at the castle he would return political power to the emperor.

The central keep, or tenshu, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1750. In 1788, the Inner Ward was destroyed by a citywide fire. The site remained empty until it was replaced by a prince's residence transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1893. In 1939, the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public the following year. In the 21st century, typhoons have periodically caused sections of plaster to peel off the walls after exposure to rain and wind.

Parts of Nijo Castle

The entire castle compound measures 500-x-400 meters and a surrounded by a tall stone embankment and moat. The Ninomaura Palace within the castle contains five buildings with numerous chambers. Access to each building depended on rank and only people of the highest rank were allowed in the inner buildings.

Honmaru Palace covers 1,600 square meters (17,000 square feet) and has four parts: living quarters, reception and entertainment rooms, entrance halls and kitchen area. The different areas are connected by corridors and courtyards. The architectural style is late Edo period. The palace displays paintings by several famous masters, such as Kanō Eigaku. Honmaru Palace was originally similar to Ninomaru Palace. The original structures were replaced by the present structures between 1893 and 1894, by moving one part of the former Katsura Palace to the inner ward of Nijō Castle. In 1928 the enthronement banquet of Emperor Hirohito was held here.

The Karamon Gate has amazing elaborate carvings, Within Ninomaru Palace, one of only two castle palaces to survive, marvel at the gleaming and opulent gilded art in very room. Nijo Castle also boasts acclaimed Japanese-style gardens, the most famous of which is the Ninomaru Garden. Relax while watching tumbling waterfalls and reminisce about the samurai of old and their elegant kimono-clad ladies appreciating this same tranquil setting. To make the most of your visit, take an interactive guided tour.

Worth checking out are Seiryu-en Garden, covering 16,599 square meters and featuring two tea houses and 1,100 special stones collected from all over Japan, many of them gifts from powerful Edo-period merchant; the Ninomura Garden, originally created in the early 17th century by master gardener Kobori Enshu, with a pond and three islands covered by well manicured bushes and trees; and Honmaru Palace, a structure built in 1847 (the original 5-story donjon was burned down in 1750 after being struck by lightning.

Ninomaru Garden of Nijo Castle is a landscape garden for strolling and viewing from within a building, constructed in the 17th century. A garden designed for welcoming the Emperor’s visit. Address: 54 Nijojocho, Nijodori Horikawa Nishiiru Nakagyoku, Kyoto Hours Open: 8:45–4:00pm Closed Tue. of January, July, Augustand December Admission: ¥600. Getting There: Near Nijojo-mae Bus Stop.

Ninormaru Hall of Nijo Castle

Ninormaru Hall (at Nijo castle) contains exquisite wall paintings, scrolls, and interior decorations. The historian Daniel Boorstein wrote it has an "appealing asymmetric arrangements of squares and rectangles attached at corners and edges [that] unfolds as we move through the building and along its exterior. We enjoy a spectrum of visual surprises, far more suspenseful than what is what offered in the vertical stacking stories" of many Western buildings. The entire floor area of the palace totals 3,300 square meters. It has 33 rooms and over 800 tatami mats,

Ninomaru Palace of Nijo Castle features the elegant, yet simple Shion-zukuri architectural style favored by the samurai class. Designated a National Treasure. It consists of six main rooms and several linked sections: 1) the entrance, where inspectors verified the identities of visiting feudal lords; 2) the Tozamurai, or retainers rooms, used as waiting areas by feudal lords, with a famous Kano school tiger painting; 3) the Shikidai, where visiting feudal lord’s met with ministers and presented gifts to the shogun; 4) Ohiroma, or Grand Room, featuring exquisitely-detailed carvings in cypress wood panels, golden pillars and sliding door paintings made by Kano Tanyu.

5) The Main Hall is the most lavish room in the castle. It was here that the shogun met visiting feudal lords. The ceiling has a special double-layered lattice structure in which each corner has been rounded. The Kuro Shion was used for private meetings between the Shogun and lords who were relatives of the Tokugawa clan. It is similar to the Main Hall but slightly smaller. The Shiro Shoin was the shogun’s living quarters. It was used as both a living room and a bedroom. The interior decorations here, consisting of simple ink paintings, are quite different from the other rooms, There are other rooms where ministers workers and where the shogun kept his swords and weapons and where he received the Emperor’s imperial messengers.

Art in Nijo Castle and the Nightingale Floors

Nijo Castle contains beautiful and compelling shohekiga (paintings on room partitions) created by the prestigious Kano school of Japanese painters. Among the exhibits is a section of shohekiga titled Matsu Taka Zu (Hawks and Pine Trees), an important cultural asset. It depicts a hawk with a keen look in his eye perched on a pine tree. The shohekiga work was created to decorate the castle’s Ninomaru palace and is thought to be one of the paintings that must have impressed the emperor with their compelling beauty.

The Kano Painters, originally from a low-ranking samurai family, grew to prominence in the 15th century for their Chinese-style landscapes, figures-in-landscape, and bird and flower scenes. The paintings at Nijo-jo Castle are the largest Kano pieces executed. Among the motifs are lifesize tigers and panthers crouching among bamboo groves, wild geese and herons in winter landscape, pine trees, flitting swallows, and frolicking peacocks.

The wall paintings in each room of Ninomaru Palace feature superb paints by prominent members of the Kano school. The painting motifs were chosen according to the unique function of each room. The wall painting have survived from the 17th century. A total of 954 of the 3,000 paintings in the palace have been designated Important Cultural Properties. Everywhere you look in he palace you will see lavish design and decorations, including the wood carvings above the sliding ceiling paintings.

According to one theory about the Nightingale Floors, the corridor was designed to produce the sounds when people walk through it in order to alert residents to the presence of intruders. The corridor is connected to an overhead beam by brackets. Over time, as the lumber dried and contracted, minute cracks appeared, causing the corridor to emit sounds when people walk through it, probably because of friction between the floor planks and between the fixing brackets and the beam.

Downtown Shopping District of Kyoto

The Walk “Modern Bustling Streets Cross Traditional Narrow Streets” takes you through the bustling streets of Nishikikoji, Teramachi-dori St., Shinkyogoku, and Kawaramachi. Head downtown to the dizzying sights and sounds of modern Kyoto, where the glaring electrical goods shops, huge department stores and banks stand alongside dusty old book shops and printmakers. Wander down the narrow backstreets of Ponto-cho, Hanamikoji-dori St. and Miyagawa-cho, and you might just catch a fleeting glance of a maiko or geisha sitting inside with a measure of refinement befitting the ancient city doorways.

Shijo-kawaramachi is the main place in Kyoto for restaurants and department stores. From here, it's only a short walk to Gion where old town houses have been transformed into stylish boutiques.For a break from shopping, wander down the tiny alleys that link the main streets and see a fascinating contrast of two worlds. Stroll around here at dusk and in the darkness watch the traditional lanterns gradually come to life, glowing gently against the blazing neon backdrop. End your day with a performance at Gion Corner, the famous stage for traditional arts. Performances are twice daily from 6:00pm and 7:00pm Note that there are no performances on July16, August16 and December29-January3.

Nishiki Food Market (long Nishikikoji St. between Teramachi and Takakura streets, behind Shijodori, the main commercial district) is filled with many small shops selling Kyoto delicacies. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” it is where restaurant chefs pick up ingredients by bicycle and women do their shopping in kimonos. Rows of paper lanterns hang from pickle shops and items from the shops spill out in the narrow 390-meter-long covered arcade. Among the delicacies on sale are “gu” (bread-like pieces of wheat gluten), “yuba” (soy paper), and steaming carp roe. There are about 150 grocery stores selling the best fresh produce available in Kyoto on n this narrow stone-paved street. It is always bustling with customers who come to look, to taste, and to buy the best.

Nakagyo Ward and Its Interesting Museums and Art Centers

Nakagyō-ku (around Nijo Castle) is one of Kyoto city's eleven wards. Its name means "central capital ward." The ward is home to about 110,430 people and is a major tourism, shopping, and entertainment area, The Kamo River flows through the district in the area known as Kawaramachi. The three most famous festivals of Kyoto, the Aoi Matsuri, the Gion Matsuri, and the Jidai Matsuri can all be seen in Nakagyō-ku. Among the historical places, temples and museums found here are Nijō Castle, Kyoto International Manga Museum, Nishiki Market, the Museum of Kyoto and the Kyoto Art Center.

Kyoto Art Center opened in 2000 as a means to bring artists of all genres, from traditional to contemporary, to work under the same roof. Established in a former elementary school, today the classrooms function as art studios, galleries, and workshop rooms. There are exhibitions and performances that are open to the public, as well as a library and a café. The wooden hallways of this Showa Era building make it a great place to wander. Location: 546-2 Yamabushiyama-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 604-8156, Tel: +81-75-213-1000

Kaleidoscope Museum ( Nakagyo Ward) features a kaleidoscopic rooms created by images from 19 electric kaleidoscopes and conceived by the artists Mitsuri Yoda and his wife Yurika. The museum opened in 2004. Website: Museum site

Kyoto Seishu Netsuke Art Museum is full of netsuke, miniature sculptures invented in 17th-century Japan to that were tied to the cords on small boxes and pouches carrying things like seals and tobacco that had to be hung from the sashes of “pocketless” robes. By providing a container with a netsuke as a toggle, it becomes more secure on the sash, helping to prevent loss or theft. Thus, from long ago, people have kept these tiny trinkets about them as useful fashion statements. Designs are unique and carved in various materials like ivory, bull horn, boxwood, amber and metal. [Source: City of Kyoto and Kyoto City Tourism Association]

With a collection of 5,000 pieces, this is the first museum in Japan to dedicate its theme to netsuke figurines, which span classical netsuke from the Edo period through to modern ones. Exhibits cover two floors and the contemporary works are grouped by the netsuke sculptors who made them. Besides wonderful exhibits, the museum is noted as an Important Kyoto Cultural Property that started life in 1820 as a samurai villa of the Kanzaki family. The building still features its dignified shoin-zukuri architecture, making a visit an artistic and architectural treat. Location: 46-1 Mibukayougosho-cho, Nakagyo-ku; Tel: +81-75-802-7000; Fax: +81-75-802-7001; Hours Open: 10:00am to 5:00pm (entry by 4:30pm )Closed Monday (following day if National Holiday),13-16 August, 30 December – 4 January Opening hours and holidays are subject to change temporarily. Admission: Adults: ¥1,000; Elementary to high school students: ¥500; Getting There: 10-minute walk from Hankyu Omiya Station, 10-min walk from Randen Shijo-Omiya Station. 2-min walk from Mibudera-michi Stop of City Bus; Website:

Daisho-do is a specialty store selling rare items such as Japanese antique books, woodblock prints and others. Several centuries after the "The Scroll of Frolicking Animals and Humans", came Ukiyo-e (woodblock print). These images of urban culture and amusement were extremely popular among commoners in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and were often displayed in homes. In their time, ukiyo-e occupied a place similar to today's manga in that they were staples of popular culture. You can purchase ukiyo-e, Japanese books, at "Daisho-do." Facing a row of temples, this shop carries high quality items but also sells comparatively affordable replicas. The store will wrap and package your purchases and send it by airmail to almost anywhere around the world. Location: Nishiki-koji agaru Teramachi Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City Hours Open: 11:00am-7:30pm, Closed Wednesdays; Getting There: 5-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, 10-minute walk from Shijo Station on the Keihan Line

Kyoto International Manga Museum

Kyoto International Manga Museum (Nakagyo Ward, Karasuma or Tozai line to Karasuma Oike Station,) houses 300,000 volumes, with 50,000 volumes of manga in Japanese and other language in the library. It welcomes visitors to come in and take manga of the shelves and hang out and read them in the library or outside on the museum’s terrace and lawn. There are 30-minute “kamishibai” picture-card performances and exhibitions. The museum isn’t much more than a gloried library but is still has received tens of thousands of visitor a year, since it opened in 2006.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is a joint project between the Kyoto city government and Kyoto Seika University, home to the first academic manga department in the country. It attracts about 300,000 visitors per year.What impresses visitors most at the Kyoto museum are the shelves that run for 200 meters and hold about 50,000 comic books. Visitors are allowed to sit and freely read the books. "Readers enjoy manga by reading their stories and we decided that an exhibition of just copies of their covers is not enough. So we allow visitors to pick up and read the books," said Shuzo Ueda, secretary general of the museum.

Kyoto International Manga Museum opened in 2006. Its main role is to record, preserve, and present the long history of comic books and cartoons, and how humor has helped humankind overcome some challenging times. The museum’s growing collection currently consists of books and rare prints, and many of the current titles can be picked up from the “manga wall” to be read in any part of the former elementary school building, and outside on the lawn.

The museum offers a stunning array of materials with everything from 19th-century Japanese magazines and books to popular contemporary works from Japan and abroad. The "Manga Expo" contains international comics and Japanese manga translated into many languages. Read "Astro Boy" in English, or "Dragon Ball" in Spanish. Approximately 5,000 Japanese works are translated together with about 420 comics from around the world. View valuable comics and feel free to read any of the hundreds of manga available. Special exhibitions are also held here. In addition, the museum serves as a library. Visitors may also want to stop by the museum shop and cafe. Built in 1929, the manga museum building was originally used as an elementary school and still retains something of that appearance. [Source: City of Kyoto and Kyoto City Tourism Association]

In August 2014, the Kyoto International Manga Museum welcomed its its 2 millionth visitor, with more than 10 percent of its visitors coming from overseas. That year the museum served as one of the venues for the Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair 2014 (KYOMAF). It hosted an exhibition featuring the “Kantai Collection—KanColle.” The Miyakomesse event hall, the fair’s main venue in Sakyo Ward, contain the booths of about 50 publishers and anime production companies, promoting such popular works as “Meitantei Conan” (Detective Conan) and “Black Jack.” There was be a computer graphics anime contest and a talk featuring anime production staff. A a total of 47 manga editorial departments at 18 publishers participated in the event, the largest of its kind in western Japan. Check for more information. [Source: Akina Kuraoka, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 17, 2014

Location: Karasuma-Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, 604-0846; Tel: +81-75-254-7414; Fax: +81-75-254-7424; Admission: Adults: 900 yen, Junior High and High School Students: 400 yen, Elementary School Students: 200 yen, Children: Free; Hours Open: 10:00am-6:00pm (Admission until 5:30pm) Closed Wednesdays, New Year holidays and maintenance period (If the Wednesday is a national holiday, the museum is closed the following Thursday); Getting There: two-minute walk from Karasuma-Oike Subway Station on the Karasuma Line or Tozai Line. From Karasuma Oike Station take Exit 2, turn right and turn left at Karasuma Oike crossroads. Website:

Image Sources: 1) Honganji Temple 2) 3) Imperial Household Agency 4) Twin Isles 5) Wikpedia 6) 7)

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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