Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan was one of the coolest places we visited in Kyoto. Built in 1603 for Japanese Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, this feudal era castle is resplendent with elegantly painted sliding doors, ceilings, and panels all through the castle. We visited Nijo Castle during cherry blossom season to see the castle’s more than 400 blooming cherry trees, as well as flower arrangements from Japan’s oldest school of Ikebana, which traditional Japanese flowering arranging, to explore the traditional Japanese gardens, and to learn more about this castle’s 400+ year history.
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301, Japan
Hours: Seasonal, see hours here under “Opening Hours”
Admission Price: ¥1,030 per Adult
Built: Year 1603
When we were in Kyoto, one of the main things we wanted to do in the city was to visit Nijo Castle, for its amazing architecture, stunning gardens, flowering cherry and plum trees, and its more than 400 years of history. We opted to explore at our own pace, rather than to take a tour, although some of the buildings we were led through by the castle’s staff who lead mini-tours on a first come first served basis. The castle complex is composed of an outer defense area, called the Honmaru, the inner defense area called the Ninomarua, and castle gardens. Visitors can explore the castle grounds, gardens, and the outside of the buildings for the price of admission.
Nijo Castle’s beautiful architecture drew us inside the various buildings in the castle courtyard, where we heard a sound like hundreds of birds chirping. A sign explained that this odd noise was a result of nails in the flooring rubbing against the clamps and other building materials in the floor. According to the signs, this sound is a result of the castle’s nightingale flooring, which was accidentally made through a building error, and the shogun at the time the castle was built decided to strategically use this building method to make loud floors throughout his castle, so that no one could sneak up on him to assassinate him or spy on him.
To see (and hear) these floors, visitors have to pay an extra fee (I think it was about $6 USD per person) to enter these buildings. The fee goes towards preserving the buildings and the castle grounds and visitors are not allowed to photograph the inside of the buildings.
With more than 400 years of history, it’s not surprising that Nijo Castle was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. (If you’re not sure what a UNESCO World Heritage Site is, or why they are so significant, you can learn more about them in this post, What Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?) The entire castle is surrounded by stone walls, moats full of koi fish, and on the property is a sprawling ornamental Japanese garden, with gorgeous pine trees, large ornamental stones, a viewing pond, and a plethora of indigenous plants that were a joy to photograph and see in full bloom.
We visited during the heigh to Kyoto‘s cherry blossom season, and witnessed the more than 400 cherry blossom trees around the castle in full bloom, which was such a magical sight. There were also several large Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) displays around the castle courtyards, which educated visitors about how the tradition of Japanese flower arranging was started in the Ikenobo tradition, which is a flower arranging school started by a Buddhist monk in the 1400s in Kyoto. If I wasn’t a travel writer, I think I’d love to be a florist, and it would be a dream come true to study Japanese flowering arranging here in Kyoto!
Near Nijo Castle, there was a café and restaurant that served drinks, small meals, and desserts. We went with the staff’s recommendation of matcha ice-cream topped with gold leaf and mochi on a stick, and it was absolutely delightful. If you want to learn more about common Japanese foods and snacks, check out my guide to Quintessential Japanese Foods!
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