Nijo Castle, located in the center of Kyoto, is a feudal castle with a couple of moats, expansive gardens and some floors you won’t find anywhere else. In 1603, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu started construction on Nijo Castle. It was expanded and finally completed 23 years later under the reign of his grandson, Iemitsu. When the shogunate fell and power was transferred back to the emperor in 1867, the castle fell under imperial control. It was donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939 and made open to the public. In 1994 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors arrive at the castle’s main gate on the eastern side of the grounds, north of the Nijojomae subway station. Upon entry, you will cross the first of two (2!) moats, then pass the carriage house and guard house before entering the castle. When you approach the low, wooden structure and take off your shoes, you may not think “castle.” (If you are like us, something out of David Macaulay’s book comes to mind). Though this castle bears little physical resemblance to the medieval castles of Europe, the function remains the same.
Once inside the castle, the tour takes you from outer chambers through inner chambers where the shogun received visitors. As you walk past the rooms with the tatami mats, you will see wonderful artwork and wooden architecture. Information is in English, so you can follow along as you walk. The real draw here are the “Nightingale Floors” which squeak when you walk across them. This was a security measure built in 1603 and is still working today.
When you finish touring the castle, take time to stroll around the grounds and through the Japanese gardens. There are plenty of gardens in Kyoto, but the castle walls and moat give this one a distinct feel.
Getting here is a snap; just take the subway to Nijojomae station and you are right there. Castle admission is 600 yen and is open from 8:45am to 5pm. Sadly, photography is not allowed inside. You will have to remove your shoes upon entry, which only adds to the experience; you can feel each floorboard squeak as you pad across them in your stocking feet. Allow about 90 minutes to see the castle and grounds.
With the gardens, moats, paintings and security measures, Nijo Castle is really worth your time.