Exploring the Honmaru Palace (Part 1)

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, ordered the construction of Nijo Castle (Nijo-jo) in 1601. The castle served as the Shogun’s palace in Kyoto, and construction was funded through “contributions” from all of the Japanese daimyo (samurai lords). The castle grounds feature both the Ninomaru Palace (where the shogun’s visitors were received):

Nijo-jo Palace entry

and the Honmaru Palace (the shogun’s private residence, which sits on a fortified island farther inside the compound):

15K30 Honmaru Palace

Although the original construction was completed in 1626, the castle burned (in whole or in part) on several occasions, and was reconstructed using the original plans as a model.

In 1867, ownership of the Honmaru Palace transferred to the Japanese Emperor, and the island became Imperial property.

Nijo-jo opened to the public in 1940, and remains a popular site for Japanese and foreign visitors. Over the next few Mondays, I’ll be taking the blog on a virtual tour of the Ninomaru Palace grounds. I hope you’ll join me!

Today, we start with a look at the Honmaru Yagura-mon: the eastern entrance to the fortified island where the Honmaru Palace sits.

15K30 Nijo Map

Two bridges cross the moat to the island where the Honmaru Palace sits–one on the eastern side of the island, and one on the West. (Most visitors enter from the east and leave via the western bridge, as the arrows on the map indicate.)

A view of the bridge and gate looking westward from the spot marked “18” on the map:

15K30 Yagura mon Nijo

And a view of the moat and the wall that surrounds the island, taken from that same position:

15K30 Honmaru Moat Nijo

After crossing the bridge and passing through the gates, visitors can see the impressive scale of the wall, which served as fortification and an elevated position for archers to defend the island in the event the outer portion of the compound was breached by enemy forces. (To my knowledge, that never happened, but when it came to defenses, shoguns didn’t mess around.)

These are the original walls, constructed during the 17th century. It’s difficult to imagine the effort required to move and place these massive stones without the use of modern machinery:

15K30 Nijo Honmaru walls

The Honmaru palace and the grounds that surround it are raised above the level of the outer compound, for purposes of a better view and for ease of defense. Visitors (or enemies) emerge through the gate and into a narrow yard, with walls on all sides and the gate behind them–making them easy targets for the shogun’s defensive forces.

15K30 Entering Yaguramon

The staircase, barely visible on the right side of the frame, leads up to the level of the Honmaru Palace (visible at the top and left of the staircase) and the lovely gardens which surround it.

I hope you’ll join me next week as we travel up the stairs and into the shogun’s private garden.

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