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Nijo Castle (, Nijōjō) was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.

Visitors to Nijo Castle enter the castle grounds through a large gate in the east. English audio guides are available for rent at a kiosk just inside the gate. Venturing further into the castle will bring you to the Chinese style Karamon Gate, the entrance to the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense), where the castle's main attraction, the Ninomaru Palace is located.

The Ninomaru Palace served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. Surviving in its original form, the palace consists of multiple separate buildings that are connected with each other by corridors with so called nightingale floors, as they squeak when stepped upon as a security measure against intruders. The palace rooms are tatami mat covered and feature elegantly decorated ceilings and beautifully painted sliding doors (fusuma).

The tour route passes by multiple waiting and audience rooms. Only the highest ranked visitors were allowed all the way into the main audience room where the shogun would sit on an elevated floor, flanked by bodyguards hidden in closets. Lower ranked visitors would be allowed only as far as the adjoining rooms without direct view of the shogun. The innermost rooms consisted of offices and living chambers, the latter of which were only accessible to the shogun and his female attendants.

Note that to view the interior of the Ninomaru Palace, visitors need to pay an additional fee. Outside of the Ninomaru Palace extends the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a large pond, ornamental stones and manicured pine trees.

The Honmaru (main circle of defense) was the site of a second palace complex and a five story castle keep. However, both structures were destroyed by fires in the 18th century and were never rebuilt. After the fall of the shogunate, an imperial residence was moved from the Katsura Imperial Palace to Nijo Castle's Honmaru where it remains today as the Honmaru Palace.

Unlike the Ninomaru Palace, the Honmaru Palace is not regularly open to the public, although there are occasional special openings. Visitors may, however, walk around the Honmaru gardens and climb up the stone foundation of the former castle keep, which offers views over the castle grounds.

The Honmaru and Ninomaru are surrounded by green space and tree lined walking paths. Cherry trees of numerous varieties are planted throughout the castle grounds, including nearly 400 cherry trees of late blooming varieties in a cherry orchard. Because of the many cherry tree varieties present, the blooming season at Nijo Castle usually lasts from late March through the entire month of April.

The castle also features a plum orchard, which is typically in bloom from late February to early March, and Seiryuen, a half Japanese, half Western style garden built in 1965 for cultural events such as tea ceremonies. Many areas of the castle grounds are also populated by maple, ginkgo and other trees that offer brilliant autumn colors usually during the second half of November.

Getting there and around

The entrance of Nijo Castle is a short walk from Nijojo-mae Station along the Tozai Subway Line.

From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. The whole trip takes about 15 minutes and costs 260 yen. Alternatively, the castle can be reached from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101 (15-20 minutes, 230 yen one way) or from Shijo-Kawaramachi by Kyoto City Bus number 12 (15 minutes, 230 yen one way).

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Hotels around Kyoto

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    • Guesthouse Engawa
      Budget-friendly
      Guesthouse Engawa offers accommodation in Kyoto. Guests can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of Kyoto in their rooms. Each comes with a flat-screen TV, and an electric kettle will be provided upon request. Bathroom facilities are shared with other guests. Free toiletries and hairdryers are also available. There is luggage storage space at the property. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 600 metres from Guesthouse Engawa, while Heian Shrine is 2.4 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Ryokan Mugen (Adult Only)
      Luxury
      Mugen is a property that was built 160 years ago, situated in Kyoto, 1 km from Nijo Castle. Every room at Mugen features an en suite shower room, toilet, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Free WiFi is available throughout the entire property. You will find a shared lounge on site and a bar at the annex building. The ryokan also offers bike hire. Imperial Palace is 1.1 km from Mugen, while Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is 1.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guesthouse tu casa
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively located in the Higashiyama Ward district of Kyoto, Guesthouse tu casa is situated 1.2 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, 1.4 km from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and 1.9 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a shared kitchen and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The guest house has family rooms. At the guest house rooms are equipped with a shared bathroom. Samurai Kembu Kyoto is 2.2 km from Guesthouse tu casa, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO
      Budget-friendly
      Open in September 2017, SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO offers accommodation with a rooftop terrace, just a 3-minute walk from JR Tanbaguchi Station. Free WiFi is provided throughout the property. Nijo Castle is 2.1 km away. You will find luggage storage space at the property. An art exhibition and various events are organised at the property. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO, while Katsura Imperial Villa is 3.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 36 km from SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and room service for guests. At the guest house every room comes with a shared bathroom with free toiletries. A continental breakfast is available daily at guesthouseoumi. Nijo Castle is less than 1 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 37 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie
      Luxury
      Ideally situated in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie is situated 1.3 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.3 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and a concierge service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel has family rooms. The hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned rooms offering a wardrobe, a kettle, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet. At Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandere the rooms have bed linen and towels. An American breakfast is available each morning at the accommodation. Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie offers a terrace. Shoren-in Temple is 2.7 km from the hotel, while Nijo Castle is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandere.
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    • IMAYA Hostel Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively situated in the centre of Kyoto, IMAYA Hostel Kyoto features air-conditioned rooms, a bar, free WiFi and a shared lounge. The property is around less than 1 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, a 16-minute walk from Nijo Castle and 2.4 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The accommodation provides a shared kitchen, a concierge service and ticket service for guests. All guest rooms at the hostel are fitted with a flat-screen TV and a kitchenette. The rooms have a shared bathroom, slippers and bed linen. Kyoto Imperial Palace is 2.9 km from IMAYA Hostel Kyoto, while Heian Shrine is 3.1 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • Ryokan Tori
      Mid-range
      Ryokan Tori is located in Kyoto, 2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The property is around 2.3 km from Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace. The property is 3.2 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 3.7 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. All guest rooms in the ryokan are fitted with a kettle. Each room has a shared bathroom, while selected rooms are fitted with a balcony and others also offer a garden view. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge. Guests at tori can enjoy an Asian breakfast. Heian Shrine is 5 km from the accommodation. Itami Airport is 50 km from the property.
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