Waraku-an, Nijo Castle’s Teahouse and Garden

Last summer’s research trip to Kyoto took me to Nijo Castle, a shogun’s palace constructed on the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Construction commenced in 1601, although the palace was not completed until 1626. 

16E15 Nijo Castle

The northernmost part of the castle grounds hold decorative gardens and a teahouse called Wakaru-an.

16E15 Waraku-an from entrance

Admission to Nijo Castle gives visitors access to Wakaru-an, but only if they purchase tea (or snacks) in the teahouse adjacent to the garden. Since I feel an attachment to the garden, we decided to head inside.

Large hedges fronted by decorative stones block the garden and teahouse from passersby;

16E15 Nijo garden rock

The only way to see the spectacular garden surrounding the teahouse is to enter through an old roofed gate and take the path to the teahouse. A polite employee stands outside to let visitors know that entrance is only for teahouse patrons:

16F16 Wakaru-an attendant

Once inside, you can stay as long as you like to enjoy your tea. I had a traditional matcha drink, along with sweetened mochi (pounded rice cake). My son had matcha, too, but chose a chocolate cake instead. (He likes mochi, but thought he’d try something different so we didn’t duplicate.)

The teahouse at Wakaru-an offers indoor and outdoor seating; since the weather was nice, we opted for the bench outside the teahouse. Here’s the view:

16E15 Waraku-an 

Wakaru-an holds special significance for me as a writer. My second Hiro Hattori novel, Blade of the Samurai, contains a scene where my ninja detective, Hiro, must infiltrate the shogun’s palace by sneaking over the wall. The place where I chose to send him in, and the garden he sneaks through on his approach to the palace, is Wakaru-an (minus the pond, which would have been too much of an inconvenience).

16E15 Waraku-an departure

In June 1565, when the novel takes place, the shogun’s palace was actually located in a different location, and likely had a different layout, than Nijo Castle. However, neither my research nor that of a Kyoto-based historian I enlisted uncovered a map of the shogun’s palace as it existed I’m Hiro’s day. (This is hardly surprising–the shogun’s palace burned on several locations, and a map would have been a security risk so few of them were made while the palaces existed.) The novel sets the shogun’s palace in the correct location, but uses a modified form of the Nijo Castle map, in part to allow a reader who visits Nijo Castle to actually walk the “shogun’s palace grounds” as they exist in Blade of the Samurai.

I enjoyed my visit to this traditional teahouse, and the snacks. If you’re ever in Kyoto, and have the chance, I highly recommend a stop at Wakaru-an.

Have you visited Nijo Castle? If you did, would you stop for tea?