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Nijo Castle on a Lazy Sunday
“I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain; What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again.” - Arthur Freed
It was a rainy Sunday in Tokyo. I couldn’t nestle in my own fluffy bed and do Sunday things. No, I was far away from home, from my comfortable nest. I decided to do something easy and quick, alone: get on board the Shinkansen, the bullet train to Kyoto from Shinagawa Station.
Although I missed seeing the view of Mount Fuji (usually one can view it from the train for over an hour, but on this day it was draped with pouring rain), I was in Kyoto after a simple three-hour ride. The scent of wet cypress trees and cedar branches confirmed my arrival: I was so happy to be returning to Kyoto.
My Sunday stroll turned into a quick and minimized taxi ride straight from the train station to Nijo Castle. There, an efficient and well-maintained, white cotton slipcovered interior greeted me. Tokugawa Shogunate first built Nijo Castle in 1601. It was a home for Tokugawa Shoguns. During this period, Edo was the capital city, but Kyoto remained the home of the Imperial Court, which is located northeast of Nijo Castle (in later days, I finally visited the Katsura Imperial Palace by confirming a reservation).
Nijo Castle, like many other ancient castles, was destroyed and damaged throughout history. From 1788 to 1893 the castle stood empty and then became a prince’s residence in 1893. Finally, in 1939, the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public in 1940.
The beautiful grounds of the castle felt appropriate for the rainy day, as I enjoyed being enveloped in an umbrella, alone. I can still hear the fine gravel making sounds as I took each step.
First, I reached the outer edges of the Ninomaru Palace where low-ranking visitors were received. Thereafter, I reached the more subtle inner chambers, which welcomed high-ranking visitors back in its glory. Visitors will first note the minimalism of the castle’s design, which expressed intimidation and power to the Edo-period visitors. One of the most striking features of Ninomaru is the “nightingale floors” in the corridors. To protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins, the builders constructed the floors to squeak when one walks on them.
Because of the weather, the interiors were dark. I could only hear the visitors’ footsteps, and raindrops hitting the pebbles out in the garden, soothing and melancholy. My Sunday visit to Nijo Castle was relaxing and memorable, and occasionally when I read my Sunday newspaper, I wish to have more of such inspiration on lazy Sundays.