Nijo Castle

1 (9) 2 (8)Points of View
Originally, castles were made as military forts to protect feudal lords from the enemy, but with Nijo Castle this is not the case. This castle did not function as a fort, but was a temporary administrative office with attached residences. One was the residence where the Shogun (i.e. the General) used to stay when he came from Edo, the former name for Tokyo. The other was a conference center at which the Shogun met his followers, the feudal lords. The castle was built about 400 years ago when political power shifted from Kyoto to Edo and the Emperor’s influence on politics had weakened. It also served as a symbol of military leadership, reminding commoners that it was the Shogunate, the Tokugawa regime, and not the Imperial Court, that practically ruled the whole of Japan. As Nijo Castle was a place where the Shogun and his followers met, the architecture represented the structure of feudal society. Now, let’s look at the relationship between the architecture and the social hierarchy.

Nijo Castle consists of two buildings, Honmaru Palace and Ninomaru Palace. Honmaru Palace was located to the back of the site. The original had fired, and to replace it another aristocratic building was moved from the original site. Ninomaru Palace is still the original structure, and is located closer to the main entrance. This section deals mainly with Ninomaru Palace.

Entering the site and moving ahead on the expanse of white gravel for a while, you will see the excellent wooden gate, shingled with cypress bark and decorated with gold detail and wooden sculptures. Passing under the gate, you see the main building with its decorative roof. The area around the main building is covered with gravel, and lots of pine trees are planted to the front. The entrance is just as gorgeous as the gate. Let’s enter the main building.

The structure is composed of five houses connected by corridors. The first house, closest to the main entrance, housed the front desk and waiting room. Since some of the Shogun’s following came from far away, they may have needed to take a short rest and wait for the meeting there. In the second house the followers would formally greet one of Shogun’s representatives. The third house was made for waiting for an audience with the Shogun, and contained a room for meeting with the Shogun. In the fourth house, there are rooms where some of the most trusted followers met and talked with the Shogun. The fifth and final house was a temporary residence where the Shogun stayed and relaxed. As you move through the buildings, the function of the houses changes progressively from public to private.

Next, let’s take a look at the Fusuma papered sliding doors, which have different pictures painted on them for each house. In the waiting room of the first house, some of the fusuma show pictures of tigers. In the second and third houses, pine trees are featured, while pine trees, cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums are drawn in the fourth house. In the fifth house, simple sumi-e ink paintings are shown. In this way, by looking at the paintings on the sliding doors, one can understand the implication of the houses.

The third and fourth houses contain large rooms where the Shogun met with his followers. These rooms were designed to hold many official visitors, who would be seated separately according to rank.  The floor where the Shogun sat is higher than that of his followers. The height of the floor and the seating position indicated the difference in rank.

Now, let’s compare the third house with the fourth one. The third is similar to the fourth but is bigger, and because the fourth is smaller it has a quieter atmosphere. Paying attention to the pictures on the sliding doors, those in the third house are pine trees, while those in the fourth include cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums as well as pine trees. The fourth therefore has a milder atmosphere than the third, which is why the Shogun generally met with his regular followers in the third house but with his more familiar ones in the fourth.

Featuring buildings with gold leaf and decorative metal fittings, a large number of pine trees both inside and outside, many sliding doors with ornamental pictures, and different floor heights even within the same room, Nijo castle, resplendent with carvings and paintings, was effectively designed for showing off the power of the Shogun.