Nijo Castle#7 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
After years of bitter strife, the aging samurai lord Tokugawa Ieyasu finally wrested power from Japan's many warring clans and unified them at the turn of the 17th century. Upon being proclaimed Shogun (feudal military dictator) of Japan in 1603, Ieyasu constructed a palace that would reflect his supreme power. Nijo Castle in central Kyoto was certainly ostentatious enough to fit the bill. Unlike other noble homes of the day, Tokugawa's gleaming white structure – decorated with ornate wood carvings – was built for show, not for defense. Even the palace's moat and inner wall stood not as defensive structures, but rather as examples of the shogun's exclusivity; only Japan's highest-ranking officials were allowed into the castle's inner sanctum.
That is not to say that Nijo lacked in protective properties entirely. Decades of war had instilled in Tokugawa Ieyasu a deep-seated paranoia, so he had "nightingale floors" installed in his palace. Designed to creak under even the lightest footstep, these floors prohibited anyone from walking through the Nijo Castle unnoticed. Travelers today can tread upon these fabled floorboards as they tour the inside of the castle, but visitors suggest wearing socks, as you'll have to remove your shoes to enter the building. Outside the palace is the lovely Ninomaru Palace Garden designed by famed landscaper and tea master Kobori Enshu. Recent visitors applaud the site’s excellent guided tours in English and say the castle and surrounding gardens are quite beautiful. However, because it is on every tourist's "must-see" list, the castle can get quite crowded. To enjoy your visit in peace, stop by just after opening or right before closing.
You can tour Nijo Castle at your leisure – with the help of an audio guide – from 8:45 a.m. until 5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.), with extended hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in July and August. The castle is open every day throughout the year except Tuesdays in January, July and August and December, and costs 600 yen (or about $5.25) to enter. Nijo Castle is located in central Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward, about 2½ miles north of Kyoto Station; the best way to get there is to either take the subway to the Nijo-jo-mae stop on the Tozai line, or to take bus No. 9, 12, 50 or 101. You can learn more about Nijo Castle here.
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