Visiting the Home of the Shogun

My second Shinobi Mystery, Blade of the Samurai, involved a murder set on the grounds of the Shogunate. The murder itself took place within the bakufu mansion, the building within the outer walls of the shogun’s compound where the shogun met with visitors and (in some administrations) where official government business took place.

I based the shogun’s compound in Blade of the Samurai off of several historical structures, among them Nijo Castle, which was actually constructed after the date of the novel–between 1601 and 162–on the orders of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.* 

Nijo-jo Palace entry

In the novel, I also describe the shogun’s personal palace, which sat on an island in an artificial lake at the center of the shogunate compound. Nijo Castle’s Honmaru palace also follows this model–though Tokugawa Ieyasu’s “island” was entirely fortified. 

Here’s a photograph of the bridge connecting Honmaru palace with the outer portions of the compound:

15I02 Nijojo Island

And another one, showing exactly how pleased I was to find myself standing where Hiro walked:

15I02 Nijojo Yaguramon (S0

Along with a photograph of the walls that completely surround the Honmaru and its grounds:

15I02 Walls to Honmaru

The walls themselves were thick enough to repel invaders, should anyone breach the massive walls surrounding the outer compound.

Inside the walls, visitors can tour the former shogun’s private garden. The Honmaru palace itself is a reconstruction, moved to the Nijo Castle site from another location and still used, on occasion by Japan’s imperial family when they visit Kyoto from Tokyo. For that reason, visitors are not allowed inside the Honmaru palace.

Here’s a view of the palace and grounds from atop the ruined remains of the fortified keep that once stood at the edge of the island–the shogun’s final line of defense, should invaders breach not only the grounds but the island itself.

15I02 Honmaru Garden from Keep

It was interesting to walk the grounds of the palace that served as partial inspiration for Blade of the Samurai–particularly since my detectives, Hiro and Father Mateo, were able to see the shogun’s private island only from the far side of the moat.

Japan is a fascinating country to visit for many reasons, but for students of “living history” it’s one of the best places in the world, because of its many well-preserved castles, temples, and other sites. Visiting these places made it easy to imagine how the country looked in Hiro’s day–because so much of that history remains, and the Japanese people consider it a treasured part of their heritage.

What’s your favorite country to visit? Whose castle would you like to see someday?


*(The palace which actually existed during the time of the novel, in 1565, burned to the ground and despite my efforts, I was unable to locate an accurate map of that compound, so though the location of the shogunate in the novel is accurate for the palace that existed in 1565, the map of the grounds is based on a later structure.) 

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