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Photos by Don Pylant

Ninomaru Palace was built in 1603 as the official residence of Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is a compound of grand buildings and many gardens surrounded by stone walls, thick gates and a moat.  The castle was given to the Imperial Family in 1867 and named Nijo Detached Palace (Nijo-jo).

The gardens contain many stones set in several arrangements.  The great beauty and stone arrangement of Ninomaru Garden, including the three legendary islands of Horai-jima (Eternal Happiness), Tsuru-jima (Crane), and Kame-jima (Turtle) were designed by tea master and garden architect, Kobori Enshu.  Enshu built the garden on part of what was the Heian period Shinsen-in (Emperor Kammu’s palace and garden) destroyed by fires.

Nijo Castle, Ninomaru Garden, Seiryu-en Garden, and Honmaru Garden

From the official website in English:

  • At the present-day Nijo Castle there are three gardens, the Ninomaru Garden, constructed during the Edo period(1603–18680, the Honmaru Garden, constructed in the Meiji period(1868–1912), and Seiryu-en Garden, which was constructed in the Showa period(1926–1989) . In 2005 in the American magazine of Japanese gardens, the “Journal of Japanese Gardening” out of 693 outstanding gardens chosen in Japan, Seiryu-en Garden came 5th position and the Ninomaru Garden was placed 10th. Then in 2006 Seiryu-en Garden was ranked 6th and the Ninomaru Garden ranked 8th out of 731 gardens all over Japan.

From Wikipedia:

Nijo Castle is a flatland castle located in Kyoto, Japan. The castle consists of two concentric rings (Kuruwa) of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by buildings.

It is one of the seventeen assets of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In 1601, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of Nijo Castle, which was completed during the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1626. Parts of Fushimi Castle, such as the main tower and the karamon, were moved here in 1625-26. It was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The Tokugawa Shogunate used Edo as the capital city, but Kyoto continued to be the home of the Imperial Court. Kyoto Imperial Palace is located north-east of Nijo Castle.The central keep, or Tenshu, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1750.In 1788, the Inner was destroyed by a city-wide fire. The site remained empty until it was replaced by a prince’s residence transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1893.In 1867, the Ninomaru Palace was the stage for the declaration by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, returning the authority to the Imperial Court. Next year the Imperial Cabinet was installed in the castle. The palace became imperial property and was declared a detached palace. During this time, the Tokugawa hollyhock crest was removed wherever possible and replaced with the imperial chrysanthemum.In 1939, the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public the following year.In the 21st century, typhoons have periodically caused sections of plaster to peel off the walls after exposure to rain and wind.

From Ninomaru Garden official website in English:

Using records and styles to guess when the garden was made, when the castle was built from 1602-1603 (the era of Ieyasu) to harmonize the castle, but in 1626 (the era of Iemitsu) for Emperor Gomizunoo’s royal visit it is thought that improvements were added to one part of the garden. The Ninomaru Garden is designed in the traditional style for Japanese residential architecture is said to be a garden expressing the world of shinsen horai (concepts concerning ‘eternal youth and immortality’ which were prized in ancient China) and is also called Hachijin Garden.

From Seiryu-en Garden official website in English:

From folding screens of scenes in and around Kyoto at the time of the Seiryu-en Garden’s foundation (Ieyasu era), we can deduce that in the area of the north part of the garden existed castle corridors and part of the castle tower. However, for the three years from 1624–1626 (Iemitsu era), on occasion of the castle’s restoration, the castle tower was relocated to Yodo Castle and the ground became vacant. Following 1634 housing for government officials in the Edo period was constructed, and we can confirm that there were a group of buildings (however they were once destroyed in the Great Fire of the Tenmei,1788.) It is thought that this same housing was removed at the beginning of the Meiji period and that the vacated land was prepared for greenery.

Ground plan of the Seiryu-en Garden
In 1915, the grounds were used as a venue for the coronation ceremony feast of Emperor Taisho, and various facilities were erected. The following year restoration work took place in the castle grounds. Following the feast, some of the facilities were removed and relocated to the other place near Heianjingu shrine, and the vacant lot was restored into a sorin-shiki garden (open forest garden) by the famous landscape architect, Jihei Ogawa.

From Honmaru Garden official website in English:

Due to an insufficiency of records, we do not know what the garden at the beginning of construction of the Honmaru was like, however it is thought that it was inferior to the Ninomaru Garden. But in 1788, due to flying sparks of the great fire, the Honmaru Palace, Corner Towers (Sumiyagura) and hall turrets (Tamonyagura), among other things, were lost to fire. The fire also spread to the garden and it is thought that the land was cleared. At the end of the shogunate, Yoshinobu Tokugawa’s living quarters was built, and the garden was built in the teahouse style.

Ground plan of Honmaru Garden
Due to the living quarter’s age it was removed in 1881, and the garden was also demolished, but from 1893 to 1894 a section of the former Katsura-no-miya Palace at the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Gardens was moved and reconstructed, and a traditional Japanese dry landscape garden was created.