All of the historical facts in this article are taken from the World Cultural Heritage Sites Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto inscription located at the entrance of Nijo Castle.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto
Nijo Castle in Kyoto… not your stereotypical Japanese castle.

Kyoto’s Castle – Nijo Jo

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by the infamous Tokugawa shogunate. The castle defended the nearby Kyoto Imperial Palace and was a place for shoguns to stay when they visited Kyoto. Almost 400 years later, in 1994, it officially became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1626 the castle underwent a huge renovation and there are still remains in the castle grounds from that time.

Bansho Samurai Guard House in Nijo Castle
Check me out in the reflection! Very hot and humid day.

This guard station was original built in 1663.

A group of samurai known as the Nijo Zaiban were dispatched by the shogunate for night watch and patrol around the castle. One group comprised 50 samurai and the castle had two groups permanently stationed at Nijo Castle.

Every spring (April) the guards would rotate duty with other squads.

Nijo Castle Main Gate
The main gate with the guard station (previous picture) on the left.

This gate pictured above is called Ninomaru Higashi-otemon (higashi = east and mon = gate) and it is the main entrance to the Nijo Castle grounds.

The inner gate of Nijo Jo.
Ninomaru-goten Karamon.
Detail of the Traditional Japanese Castle Gate
Such detail and colour, welcoming the special people into the inner grounds of Nijo Castle.

Ninomaru Palace and Garden

The real history and main reason this is a World Heritage site is seen at the palace and landscaped garden inside the castle walls.

Ninomaru Goten
Ninomaru Goten – you could roughly translate goten in Japanese to a mansion in English.

The Ninomaru Palace inside the castle grounds is made up of many residential style buildings in a diagonal pattern alongside a pond. Each room inside the palace has its own individual and magnificent features.

Ninomaru Teien - Landscaped garden at Nijo Castle.
Ninomaru Teien.

To the south west of the palace is Ninomaru Teien (teien = a special type of wide, landscaped, designed garden). It has designed rock formations, a man-made waterfall and three small islands in the pond.

Ninomaru Garden
Another view of the Ninomaru Teien.

Honmaru Palace – Inner-Inner Nijo Castle Grounds

Over a bridge crossing a moat, and through another gate is area of raised ground deep in the center of the Nijo Castle grounds.

HDR photo of Nijo-jo in Kyoto
A view of Honmaru Palace from a raised ground area deep inside Nijo Castle.
Nijo Jo World Heritage Building Kyoto
One of the residential style buildings of the Honmaru Palace that has Japanese Important Cultural status.
Close-up of Nijo-jo palace building
Close-up of another palace building
Nijo Castle World Heritage Building in Kyoto
Another of the Palace buildings.
The interior moat and Honmaru Yoguramon (gate).
The interior moat and Honmaru Yoguramon (gate). This moat separates the Ninomaru area from the Honmaru area.
This place has World Heritage status… respect!

Visiting Nijo-jo

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Nijo Castle is really easy to get to, it’s very close to Kyoto station. You can take the bus (a 500 yen day bus is the most economical way to get around Kyoto) which is only a 15 minute ride from Kyoto station. Alternatively you can take the subway to the Nijo stop.

Entry is 600 yen.

When I last visited Nijo Castle I was using a day hire bicycle, such a great way to get around Kyoto!

Travel tip

Nijo Castle is on the same train line as another Kyoto World Heritage site, Daigo-ji Temple. Spend the morning at the castle and then the afternoon at the temple!