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Nijo Castle Kyoto: Complete Guide to the World Heritage Site Shoguns Lived in

Nijo Castle Kyoto: Complete Guide to the World Heritage Site Shoguns Lived in

Date published: 27 November 2019
Last updated: 29 January 2021

Kyoto's Nijo Castle is a World Heritage Site consisting of a moat, two concentric walls, gardens and the remains of a tenshu tower.

It was built in 1603 by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the Edo era, with the purpose of housing the Military Commissioner of Kyoto and the shogun when he visited Kyoto. During the age of the third shogun, Iemitsu Tokugawa, it underwent heavy renovations to accommodate Emperor Gomizuno-o. This is when murals drawn by Kano Tanyu were commissioned, among other art.

Let’s take a look back at the history of Kyoto's Nijo Castle, enjoying the glamorous outfits and beautifully kept gardens.

Table of Contents
  1. You have to check out the Kano school murals in the Ninomaru Palace!
  2. Ninomaru Garden, an original part of Nijo Castle
  3. Beautiful green grass and a paved path: Honmaru Garden
  4. A view of Kyoto from the tenshu remains
  5. A blend of east and west in gardening: Seiryu-en
  6. A matcha café after your castle trek: Sanoa
  7. What do you need to look out for when visiting Nijo Castle Kyoto?

You have to check out the Kano school murals in the Ninomaru Palace!

You have to check out the Kano school murals in the Ninomaru Palace!
(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

After going through the large east gate and stepping through another grand one to get to Ninomaru Palace, you’ll find that it’s a valuable site as an example of early Edo period residential architecture. Its uniqueness has earned it the privilege of being the only palace within a castle to be designated as a natural treasure.

Inside, you’ll find the Tora no Ma, a room for guests to wait in, the Shikidai, the place where news would be announced to the shogun, and the Ohiroma, where the last scene of the Edo period played out. Past the Orhioma, you can find the public Kuroshoin, as well as the shogun’s private Shiroshoin.

If there’s something you have to see in Ninomaru Palace, it would be the murals by Karino Tanyu’s school. Foremost is the painting of a hawk on pine branches, as well as beautiful paintings of tigers, leopards, cherry blossoms, and other seasonal flowers.

The gold-decorated wall virtually glowed before all who saw it, displaying the shogun’s authority. The partitions between the rooms and on their upper parts have lavishly made sculptures and decorations, giving the interior a glamor befitting of the shogun’s quarters. The nightingale corridors that make the sound of a bird’s chirp when walked through are also of note.

Ninomaru Garden, an original part of Nijo Castle

Ninomaru Garden, an original part of Nijo Castle
(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

The Ninomaru Garden was constructed for Emperor Gomizuo-o under the orders of Enshu Kobori in 1626. The garden has a large bond with three islands, in the style of Shoin gardens of the time.

It was made to be viewed from three directions: Ninomaru Palace's great hall, the kokushoin, and the emperor's quarters. Eventually, the emperor's quarters were moved from Ninomaru Palace as time went on, and the garden changed and was abandoned at the end of the shogunate.

However, when Nijo Castle became the emperor's villa in 1884, the garden underwent large-scale renovations, ending up in its current shape. The well-placed rocks and 150-year-old sago palms are worth seeing.

Beautiful green grass and a paved path: Honmaru Garden

Beautiful green grass and a paved path: Honmaru Garden
(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

Leaving the Ninomaru Garden, you'll find the Honmaru area, surrounded by the inner moat. Within the Honmaru's 20,000 square meter area, you'll find the Honmaru Palace, a reconstructed version of the Katsuranomiya Palace moved from Kyoto Palace in 1893, and the Honmaru Garden that was renovated to accommodate the Meiji Emperor.

General visitors aren't allowed inside the Honmaru Palace, but you can pass through the Honmaru Garden. The garden has been made with artificial hills, grass, and a curved path to make it resemble a western garden. The hills have azaleas planted on them, allowing viewers to enjoy their flowers from the end of spring to the beginning of summer.

A view of Kyoto from the tenshu remains

A view of Kyoto from the tenshu remains
(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

In the southwest corner of the Honmaru, you'll find stone steps that lead to the Nijo Castle's tenshu remains. Initially, Nijo Castle had a five-storied tenshu, but during the Edo period renovations, the tower was moved to Yodo Castle. The tenshu remains seen here originally belonged to Fushimi Castle. in 1750, it was struck by lightning and burned down, leaving only the walls remaining.

You can view the Honmaru Palace and Honmaru Garden from these remains, as well as parts of Kyoto, Mount Hiei and Mount Atago. The spot has a far reaching view during clear days in winter, giving it popularity.

A blend of east and west in gardening: Seiryu-en

A blend of east and west in gardening: Seiryu-en
(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

On the north side you'll find a garden, Seiryu-en. This is where the tenshu tower was said to be when Nijo Castle was first built. When the castle was renovated and the tenshu tower was moved, a residence for shogunate officials was built to replace it, but this was demolished halfway through the Meiji era and replaced with a garden.

The current Seiryu-en was established in 1965, inheriting parts of Ryoi Sumino's residence, rocks and trees. The west side is a Japanese-style garden with a trail around the pond, while the east side if a western-style garden with a grass lawn. There's a rock that looks like a lion at the border of the two gardens, so do try to find it.

A matcha café after your castle trek: Sanoa

A matcha café after your castle trek: Sanoa
Soft serve with different toppings by season: Golden Soft (1,200 yen, tax included)
Smooth and fragrant: Matcha Beer (600 yen, tax included)

After enjoying a walk about Nijo Castle, take a break in the rest area. In the rest area's GREEN CAFE STYLE Sanoa, you can enjoy sweets made with Kyoto-sourced tea. The most popular item is the Golden Soft (-serve), the color of which is fashioned after the gold leaf that decorates the furniture in Nijo Castle.

Its matcha-flavored soft serve ice cream has a thin layer of gold leaf, said to be sourced from the same gold powder used in the construction of Nijo Castle. The green tea ice cream is only just sweet enough and will hit the spot if you're tired from walking.

Another item of note is the Matcha Beer, a beverage with a beautiful, eye-catching matcha-green color. The beer's light bitterness matches wonderfully with matcha's refreshing taste.

There's also the Kyomotenashi (prices vary by toppings), which is matcha ice cream with yatsuhashi, yuba, tea dango, and other types of Kyoto toppings. The matcha langue de chat biscuits "Koto no Haoto" (700 yen or more, tax included) are similarly popular.

What do you need to look out for when visiting Nijo Castle Kyoto?

Being a protected cultural site, photographs and videos in the Ninomaru Palace are forbidden. You can film and photograph outside, but the use of cameras with stands is forbidden. Also, since most of the paths are made of gravel, you'll want to wear some comfortable shoes.

  • GREEN CAFE STYLE Sanoa
    GREEN CAFE STYLE茶乃逢
    • Address 541 Nijo-jo-cho, Horikawa-nishi-iru, Nijo-jo-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 〒604-8301
    • Phone Number 075-813-5055
    • Hours: 8:45AM to 4:45PM
      Closed: Refer to Nijo Castle’s schedule

Text by:word. Main image :(C)Nijo-jo Castle Office

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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