The Castles of Kyoto

March 1, 2013 by

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East Main Gate, Nijo Castle, one of the castles of Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Araisyohei via Wikimedia Commons.

East Main Gate, Nijo Castle, one of the castles of Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Araisyohei via Wikimedia Commons.

Kyoto’s Nijo Castle is a survivor from an era when shoguns ruled Japan and was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Japan’s most powerful shogun of the time, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Edo Period (1603-1867) was one of the most fascinating and culturally rich periods in Japan’s history and a tour through the castles of Kyoto is a chance to go back to a time of samurai and ancient traditions.

The original Ninomaru Palace is the castle’s main attraction and consists of several buildings connected by corridors with ‘nightingale floors’. These floors were designed to squeak when stepped upon in order to guard against intruders. Rooms in the palace are covered in tatami mats and still feature their exquisitely decorated ceilings and painted sliding doors. A traditional Japanese landscape garden lies just outside the palace.

A second palace, Honmaru, no longer exists in its original form as a series of buildings and a five-story castle keep. An imperial residence stands in its place and is surrounded by cherry trees, plum trees and other varieties of blooming foliage. The winding paths that cut through the gardens are especially popular during spring and fall.

Book a private tour guide in Kyoto to learn about the history of the castles of Kyoto.

Himeji Castle

Picturesque Himeji Castle stands majestically on a hilltop in Himeji, about an hour by train from Kyoto. Its signature whitewashed walls and curlicue roofs have remained intact since it was first constructed during feudal times and it is known as Japan’s most beautiful castle. The castle interior is closed to the public until March 2015 due to maintenance.

Hikone Castle

Another original castle from the same era, Hikone Castle has intact inner moats, walls, guard houses and gates, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. It is possible to climb the stairs inside the castle to the top floor of its three-storied castle keep. From here you can see right across the castle grounds to Hikone city and beyond. Visit the Hikone Castle Museum to see a partial reconstruction of the original palace buildings as well as displays of armor, kimono and musical instruments that once belonged to the castle’s inhabitants.

- Emma McMahon

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