When visiting Kyoto, Nijō Castle is definitely one of the must-see tourist stops. It served as the Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa shoguns and the imperial court from the 15th century and became imperial property during the 17th century.
Before touring the palace, you must remove your shoes and put them into a compartment in the large shoe rack. As you move from room to room, day-to-day scenes from the period depict how each room may have been used. For instance, low-ranking officials were greeted in outer rooms that weren’t elaborately decorated while special guests were received in grand halls etched in gold.
The ceiling and shoji doors are all beautifully decorated with handpainted designs and tatami mats covered the floors. Some rooms feature gold-leaf patterns and carved wooden beams. Interestingly, when someone walks on the wooden floorboards, the boards make creaking sounds. This security device effectively alerted bodyguards of movement around the palace and helped them protect the shogun from assassins. It’s a shame you aren’t allowed to take photos though, but I suppose it would cause the artistry to degrade more quickly over time.
The outside of the palace has several gardens with ponds and rock formations that emphasize the Japanese-style of landscaping. Plum and cherry trees are tastefully clipped to create a view that is extremely pleasant on the eyes. Blue-chip gravel covers the ground and surrounds the garden area in a sea of blue that contrasts with the bright greens of nature.
Despite the Japanese-only information plaques and recordings, I still enjoyed my time at Nijō Castle. I guess it’s interesting to see how the other half lives, even if it’s in another language.