Where Diego says hello to an old friend, goes to the market, and watches a geisha performance.
First part of three.
Ahh, Kyōto. Coming here felt like having a reunion with an old friend. This venerable old city – Japan’s imperial capital for over a thousand years – featured as a major stop in two of my three previous journeys through the country. Even so, I knew I’d barely even scratched the surface on those visits, so a third encounter didn’t seem like a waste of time.
Visiting old friends usually entails visiting old haunts, hence today’s quick stop at Nijō Castle.
I was last here in the spring of 2009. Not much has changed in four years, except that a major feature is currently covered up for restoration (more on that later). Most people would probably consider this reason enough to move on – been there, done that, nothing new – but my recent visit to the rebuilt daimyō’s residence at Kumamoto Castle inspired me to have another look at Nijō’s famed (and far more ancient) Ninomaru Palace. Not really sure why, though I suspect I wanted to see how Kumamoto’s reconstruction would fare when compared with Kyōto’s original centuries-old building.
The castle’s main gate.
Just inside the gate stands a fine guardhouse, said to have been completed in 1663.
Within the outer ring is another low wall, pierced by a splendid karamon gate with gilded metal fittings and intricately carved woodwork. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit all of that beauty was concealed by scaffolding – thank goodness I’d had the chance to see it four years before.
Part of a tiled roof on top of the inner wall.
The main entrance of the Ninomaru Palace.
No photographs are allowed inside: the staff are quite keen on strictly implementing this rule and are even prepared to verbally remind visitors in Japanese AND English (and presumably other languages as well) at the entrance that they should keep their cameras tucked away. Unfortunately, this means I can’t show you the magnificent paintings that cover the walls, door panels, and ceilings of this sprawling mansion. Compared with the ones I saw in Kumamoto Castle, Nijō’s are perhaps a little less lavish and certainly look far less fresh (the centuries have not been kind to the gold leaf and pigments used). Nonetheless they are spectacularly beautiful, and I would say the Ninomaru Palace has the overall edge because here, one can see a complete cycle of decoration (not to mention the fact that these are originals with a worth beyond estimation due to their age and artistic value). Kumamoto’s decorative scheme, on the other hand, remains incomplete for now, with the restored artwork so far limited to just the two most important reception rooms of the palace.
And of course, one can’t fail to mention the famed nightingale floors!
Back to the great outdoors now, and through the gate on the western side of the gravel-strewn plaza in front of the palace. A network of pathways takes us through the Ninomaru Garden, from which one can take in the elegant architecture of the palace building.
The refreshing sight of spring flowers in bloom.
The garden’s central pond features a beautifully arranged collection of rocks.
West of the Ninomaru Palace compound lies the honmaru, the castle’s innermost enclosure, which is surrounded by its own walls and moat.
Another grand residence for the shōgun once stood in this area, but it was destroyed by fire in the late 18th century. The Honmaru Palace we see today consists (at least in part) of structural elements transferred to the site in the 1890s from one of Kyōto’s imperial palaces.
These steps lead up to the stone base upon which the castle’s main tower once stood.
Although the structure was destroyed by fire more than two centuries ago (a recurring story in this city of wooden buildings), the top of the base still offers commanding views of the surrounding area.
The Honmaru Palace’s splendid entrance hall – hard to miss as it’s right in front of the inner circle’s western gate, through which I passed on my way to see the rest of the castle grounds.
The gate (now reduced to its stone base), bridge, and moat on the western side of the honmaru. The base of the main tower is visible just left of centre on the third photograph below.
Now for a nice, relaxing stroll through the garden surrounding the inner moat. With a bit of hanami, of course.
Less talk, more pictures.
Next on our itinerary: off to the market, and then the theatre.
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