Robot wearing kimono

Nijō Castle and a Spectacular Kimono Exhibition

With wide moats, massive stone walls, and imposing keeps, Nijō Castle demonstrates the power of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled over Japan for more than 260 years. Hidden behind this intimidating facade are, however, dreamy gardens and a magnificent palace where an exquisite collection of kimonos was on display.

Dominating a large area in the city’s north-western part, Nijō Castle (二条城) was intended as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. The construction started in 1603 but was only completed some twenty years later, under the reign of Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu.

After the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate near the end of the 19th century, Nijō Castle became imperial property. It was donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939. In the following years, the castle opened its doors to the public as an outstanding example of palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era.

The outer wall of Nijō Castle
The heavy yet elaborate gate of Nijō Castle
Honmaru – Main circle of defense

Nijō Castle Architecture

Though its heyday is long gone, Nijō Castle remains an eloquent testimony to the Tokugawa’s might. The flatland castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications: the Honmaru (main circle of defense) and Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense). Each is accompanied by wide moats, massive stone walls, and heavy yet intricate gates. Between the defensive, rings are green spaces, support buildings, as well as nearly 400 cherry trees.

A short walk through the beautiful gardens brought me to the lavishly decorated Karamon Gate – a symbol of authority during the Tokugawa shogunate. This gate marks the entrance to Ninomaru, where the castle’s star attraction, the Ninomaru Palace is located. For nearly 300 years, this magnificent building served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. The palace was fortunate enough to escape natural and wartime calamities. Thus, many of its features and decorative details survived in their original form.

Entrance to Honmaru. Closed during a night-opening
The beautiful garden of Nijō Castle
The garden of Nijō Castle at night
The cherry trees in Nijō Castle
Karamon Gate, which marks the entrance to Ninomaru

Kimono Exhibition at Nijō Castle

During my visit, parts of the Ninomaru Palace were transformed into a kimono showroom, named “Kimono Roboto”. This extraordinary exhibition was the work of several visual artists who wanted to celebrate the remarkable beauty of the kimono and its historic technique.

From the quality of the fibers, and the intricate patterns, to the nature of the dyes, each robe is a masterpiece. It resonates with the complicated and painstaking process employed. At the center of the exhibition stood a glided robot, which represents the role of technology in the survival of ancient and endangered artistries on which the kimono depends.

The exhibition at Ninomaru Palace
Each robe is certainly a masterpiece

Tips for visiting Nijō Castle

  • The entrance of Nijō Castle is a short distance from Nijōjō-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 Nijōjō-mae Station. The whole trip takes about 15 minutes and costs 260¥ one way.
  • Alternatively, you can take the city bus (number 9, 50, or 101) from Kyoto Station to  Nijōjō (Nijō Castle) Station. It takes around 20 minutes and costs 230¥ one way. If departing from Gion, you can take bus 12 (also 20 minutes, 230¥ one way).
  • The usual admission time is from 8:45 to 17:00. But on several special occasions, such as the Night-time illumination in early April, the castle is also opened from 18:00 to 22:00.


10 thoughts on “Nijō Castle and a Spectacular Kimono Exhibition”

  1. The pictures are so wonderful, Len. Are guests allowed to take photographs inside the castle? How long were you stayed in Japan? How many days for Kyoto?

    1. Yes, you can freely take photos inside the castle. I don’t remember seeing any warning sign 🙂
      It was an 11-day trip, and I spent 3 days in Kyoto. But it was too short. I couldn’t see all the main attractions in Kyoto. Gion district, the Golden Pagoda and Philosophy Path are still on my list.

      1. Sorry, I was wrong. Visitors are not allowed to make photos inside the palace 🙂 One of my fellow blogger has just pointed that out. During our visit at night, we were probably allowed to enter areas where photos are not prohibited.

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    Of course, being Japan there has to be a robot! 🙂 I really love all those bright colors and beautiful patterns of the kimono. By the way, was this exhibition held in a dedicated area within Ninomaru Palace? Or did it actually occupy the entire palace? Because when I went there in the morning I saw signs prohibiting people from taking photographs.

    1. I guess the exhibition only takes a part of the palace. I visited the palace at night, so I couldn’t tell how it looks like during the day. Perhaps we were only allowed to enter the front area where making photographs is not prohibited 🙂

  3. I’m fascinated by the mix of the traditional kimono with modern technology—very cool! The Japanese seem to have special skill in combining the old and new in such aesthetically pleasing ways.

  4. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, Egypt, Japan, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We travelled full-time for nearly six years, and then re-established a home in Vancouver. We now travel 2-3 months per year. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, photography, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    Absolutely beautiful photographs Len. We went to Nijo Castle, which was fascinating enough, but I would have loved the kimono exhibition.

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