The first thing everyone notices when they come to Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle) is the grand outer moat running around the whole castle grounds and then the towering doors of the front gate. On the other side of the long white walls, the spirit of the 400-year reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate lives on ––––
Located in Kyoto, which is symbolic of many different historical periods, and leaving a deep impression of the atmosphere of the Edo Period (1603-1868) even today, Nijo Castle was inscribed as a World Heritage Property by UNESCO in 1994.
In 1603, the first Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, constructed Nijo Castle to defend the Imperial Palace at Kyoto and as a residence for when he visited the capital city. Furthermore, the third Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, gathered the most skilled craftsmen and artists of the day and conducted a large-scale reconstruction of the castle, including moving some of the remnants of the old Fushimi Castle to the construction site. By the year 1626, the castle was completed, in a form very similar to that of the present castle.
Nijo Castle was born in the days of the Tokugawa shogunate and has been witness to several important episodes in Japanese history, such as Ieyasu’s determination to destroy the Toyotomi family and the political upheaval of the Taiseihokan, in which the 15th Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu, returned sovereignty to the Emperor, signaling the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912), the castle was under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household Agency as an imperial villa, and in the Showa Period the imperial family presented it to Kyoto City.
The outward appearance of the castle is that of a rough citadel, with two-storied turrets at the corners, a stout front gate, and a guardhouse, once manned by armed samurai. However, once you are inside the castle walls, the atmosphere changes dramatically. Starting with the elegant Kara Gate and the magnificent Ninomaru Palace, the castle’s finer aspects, such as the splendid Kano family partition pictures, the wandering ponds in the gardens, the flowering plants which bloom in all four seasons, and the variety of masterful, detailed works of art all combine to form a harmonious whole that is one of the finest examples of the art and architecture of the Momoyama Period (1568 to 1603) in Japan. By all means, do enjoy a visit to Nijo Castle and experience its special, characteristic beauty.