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Goin’ Japanesque!

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kyoto’s Nijo Castle: Place of the Rise and Fall of Tokugawa Shogunate

15 minutes by subway from Kyoto Station, relatively close to the current Kyoto City Hall, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace which was once the political center, is where the Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle) is located. This was also an area that was politically important during the Tokugawa regime.

A period of war when the feudal lords fought each other to reign over the country was finally over. This regime continued for 265 years until the last Shogun Tokugawa transferred power back to the emperor in an event called Taisei Hokan. This is the truth of the event that those living during the warring period as well as those of us studying this history in modern times cannot help but be surprised.

*Taisei Hokan (大政奉還): The Tokugawa family enacted the return of political power to the Emperor and the imperial family accepted. By doing so, the era of samurai that had continued since the Kamakura Period (1185-1392) came to an end.

The entire castle of Nijo-jo is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has culturally received high acclaim. The masterpieces in the elaborate Momoyama Period artistic style are also quite a sight; visitors often are in awe of the extravagance.


Karamon: A Number of Vivid Sculptures


Writer’s Photo

The Karamon Gate is an important cultural treasure of Japan. There are very intricate openwork carvings and the colors are vivid as well. It is a culture that was born in the age of Japanese military commanders Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is luxurious as well as gorgeous.

Writer’s Photo

If you look closely, you will see a “sennin” or mountain hermit that rides the tortoise in the left corner of the photo. There are also animals like the dragon, tiger and lion depicted in rich coloring. Their facial features are very expressive it may make you chuckle.


Kuruma-yose: Entranceway with a Chrysanthemum Emblem


Writer’s Photo

Once you go through the Karamon gate, the “kuruma-yose” which is the entryway to the castle, appears in front of your eyes. Here there are also peonies, pines, phoenixes and other intricate carvings. You can tell that they put in a lot of work even in the entrance.

Writer’s Photo

Look up at the very top and you may be able to see an emblem of a golden chrysanthemum. The chrysanthemum is the imperial family crest, and thus signifies that this was an imperial villa.


Walking Around the Castle

Writer’s Photo

The area around Nijo-jo is designed so that visitors can leisurely stroll as they look at the architecture. There is also a garden with ponds and plants that allow you to get a sense of the four seasons. This is recognized by the nation as a place with a spectacular view.


The Sengoku Period was a period of inverted social order when the lowly reigned over the elite. This period came to an end by Nijo-jo castle under Tokugawa Shogunate rule. It signified a new start for Japan; seemingly a turning point for Japan of the past to Japan as we see it in modern times. However, the site of Taisei Hokan, where the Tokugawa reign saw its end was ironically also at this Nijo-jo. Since then, there has not been any period in Japan of a single political party staying in power for as long as 265 years. It may be the future generations who will find out if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

We encourage you to experience the art and history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo-jo. It is sure to evoke many emotions.

Close to the “Nijo-jo Mae” bus stop on the Kyoto City Bus and “Nijo-jo Mae” station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway Tozai Line.
Open 8:15AM to 6:00PM

Related Articles:
Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, Kyoto Imperial Palace: Marks of Samurai Battle from the Tokugawa Regime
8 Sightseeing Routes for Kyoto Shinsengumi: Visit Famous and Unknown Places with Ease!

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About the author

I cherish the history, culture and nature of Japan. In university, I majored in history and I currently often travel to see things that I have not seen around the world through my own eyes. I hope to convey to all of you, the excitement I feel through such experiences. I hope you come to love Japan even more.

View all articles by Mikiko