Nijo Castle

April 17, 2004


Nijo Castle

About 400 years ago, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo shogunate, built this castle to guard the city’s Imperial possessions and residences, and it was designed to resemble the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Ninomaru garden is a place of scenic beauty and the paintings on the wall in the Ninomaru Palace offer examples of both the large painting style of the Momoyama period and the newer style of the Edo period. Another important aspect of the Nijo castle is the nightingale floor, which you really must experience for yourself.

The Ninomaru Palace

The most fascinating part of Nijo castle is the Second Palace (Ninomaru). Ninomaru means “outer defense”, and the heads of the castle like the shogun, or Japanese feudal lord, lived here, so they could be best prepared for emergency in battle. The Ninomaru Palace is one of Japan’s national treasures, and is made up of 6 bridges, and 33 rooms. This means there are a staggering 800+ tatami mats inside the buildings! The bridges traverse the compound in a pattern from southeast to northwest. They are not laid in a straight line, so the overall effect is quite snake like. The rooms have golden walls, and each room has a special theme and meaning, with different paintings in each to reflect those themes. There are tigers, eagles, pine trees, white Japanese apricots, etc. For example, in the first room you can see images of tigers on the wall. The reason for this was to express the power of the Shogun and to impress visitors (samurai etc.), in order to have them fear and admire him. All the paintings were painted by the legendary Kano Tanyu, and are dynamic and uplifting in their imagery.

Ohiroma iti-no-ma is the largest and grandest room and was the most formal room in the castle. This room bears special significance, because the final Tokugawa shogun returned political power to the Emperor here, effectively marking the end of the samurai period.

※ Please refrain from taking pictures in the castle, as flash photography may damage the delicate materials used in the treasures found here. Please respect our heritage so that it may be passed on to the future generations.

Nightingale Floor

The Nightingale floor was laid in Nijo Castle for added security. To guard against intrusion into the Castle by suspicious and dangerous persons like ninja, the floor was designed to sing like a nightingale. The sound is different from that heard in older houses, because of the different way the floor was laid. By suspending the floor above the frame using special iron clamps, the floor can move up and down over the fixing nails when walked upon. This causes the nails to rub against the wood and create a sound similar to the cheeping of a nightingale. All the floors in the castle, from the entrance to Ohiroma, are this type of floor. When you visit Nijo Castle, try your best to walk along the floor without making a sound ── if you can, perhaps you are secretly a ninja!!

Kano school

The Kano school was the largest Han painting school and was in existence from the late Muromachi period to the beginning of the Meiji period in about 1900. The Kano school members were blood relations, so this group of painters was a family and school combined.

The Kano school served the shogunate for 200 years, and received hospitality and respect from all persons who settled in Japan. In the Muromachi period, an ancestor of Masanobu was awarded the status of official painter by the Shogun, and he thereafter founded the Kano style. Following Masanobu, Motonobu (1476-1559) became the head of the Kano school, and he created a technique whereby the golden decorations of the Yamato painting style were introduced into Han paintings. This is interesting, because the far clearer the Yamato style is almost completely the opposite of the Han type.

“The History of Honcho paintings” written by Kano in 1691, says Tanyu created a new Kano style. He made great use of space and decoration in his pictures, and experimented broadly with tones he drew from Chinese ink brush technique. His drawings are plainer than other Kano school members, but he decorated the walls of Nijo castle as a prominent member of the Kano school when he was just 25 years old (in 1626).

Second (Ninomaru) Garden

The Ninomaru Garden has been designated as a place of scenic beauty by the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency, and was designed so as to be seen in all its splendor by the Shogun as he held court in Ohiroma. This magnificent garden was organized, designed and brought to life by Enshu Kohori. Pine trees and a variety of seasonal trees are in evidence in the garden, so every season provides a different vista of color. Despite the obvious beauty of the natural foliage, there is another way to enjoy Japanese gardens, and that is through stone.

When encountering a garden that features mainly stones for the first time, you need to search for that special stone which really appeals to you. You should then try again, looking for a partner to the first which appeals to you when viewed from the same angle. After this, one should advance along the route a little more and try once again. This methodical approach will help you to appreciate the changing dynamics of such a garden from the forceful and intensive to the calm and serene. The creator of such a garden arranges the stones in such a way to lead you to a deeper understanding of his art and the garden.

※Please take care not to kick around or walk on the stones, in order to preserve the plant life and the integrity of the garden.


Honmaru is the main part of the castle and is generally what people would imagine upon hearing the word “castle”. Just as in other castles, like Himeji, Nijo Castle had some classical stages and parts. There were once five stages to Nijo, but it twice suffered severe fire damage in its history, through lightning strikes. The building, now on the site where the keep was once located, was moved here from Katsura Imperial Villa, which had once been one of the Kyoto Imperial Villas.

Leave A Comment...