Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shogun was a title given to the commander and chief/military dictator of Japan. The Shogun period spanned from 800 to 1867 AD.
While appointed by the Emperor, the Shogun served as the actual ruler of Japan with the Emperor serving as more of a ceremonial and spiritual leader. Real power was returned to the Emperor in 1867 as part of Meiji Revolution.
The castle’s exterior wall, surrounded by a moat, represents the first line of defense. Once inside the castle, there is a secondary circle of defense known as the Ninomaru. The Karamon Gate serves as the entrance to the Ninomaru.
The main feature of the Ninomaru is the Ninomaru Palace which served as the shogun’s residence when visiting Kyoto.
After the fall of the shogun and return of power to the Emporer, Nijo Castle was turned over to the city of Kyoto and later opened up for public access. The castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994 and serves as an excellent example of castle palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era.
Traveling to Kyoto Japan was one of my more challenging trips to plan. Through the help of numerous travel blogs, I ended up staying in the Higashisyama district. Looking back, it was a great location to experience Kyoto.
On my first morning in Kyoto, I went for a run with the intent of running along the Kamo river. Along the way, an inviting canal called for a closer look.
Deeper inside the canal area, I realized I had stumbled across a special location. The canal is lined with willow trees and classic Kyoto architecture.
Combined with the early morning light and empty streets, I was feeling quite immersed in a feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Just one of those magical moments.
After my run, I did a little research and learned that I had been in the Shirakawa Canal area which is within walking distance of the popular Shijo Avenue and Gion District. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, I learned the structures I had seen were actually nice restaurants and ochayas (Geisha tea houses) that blended in quietly along the canal.
Strolling along the canal later in the day, I realized the area was quite popular. I don’t know if the presence of kimonos was a daily event here or if it was a period of Japanese national and/or religious significance. Regardless, there were many men and women along the canal posing for photos by family or professional photographers. The lady in the third image had an interesting mask in her hand but, again, not sure about the meaning.
All along the canal, there are many crossings and points of departure that will take you away from this oasis and back into busier areas of the city…if you have to go. However, the Shirakawa Canal makes a compelling visual case to stay and enjoy its tranquility and beauty.