Honmaru-goten Palace

Introduction to Nijo-jo Castle

Honmaru-goten Palace

(currently closed for restoration)

Honmaru-goten Palace

History

The Honmaru is the area within the inner moat in the center of the castle grounds. It resulted from the westward expansion of the castle grounds, ordered by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in preparation for the 1626 imperial visit of Emperor Go-Mizuno-o. Iemitsu had a palace built here, which was lost to the Great Tenmei Fire of 1788. A new palace was built in its place by the fifteenth Shogun Yoshinobu (ruled 1866–67) toward the end of the Edo period, but was demolished in or around 1881.
The structure we see today was originally the Katsura-no-miya family residence, built in 1847 in the northern section of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, just inside the Imadegawa Gate. The main parts of this building, the Katsura-no-miya Palace, were moved to the present location in 1894 on the order of Emperor Meiji, whose villa Nijo-jo was located here at the time.

Architecture

The Honmaru-goten Palace is one of the country’s very rare surviving examples of Edo-period domestic architecture designed for an imperial princely family. It offers a glimpse into the living quarters of such people, and for this reason has been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. After it was moved to Nijo-jo, the palace served an important role as an imperial villa, having accommodated Emperor Taisho (1879–26) nearly ten times when he was still a prince. The Honmaru-goten Palace is composed of a series of four buildings: Genkan; Goshoin; Otsune-goten; and Daidokoro and Kari-no-ma.

Honmaru-goten Palace MAP

  1. Genkan

    Genkan

    Genkan literally means “entrance,” or “entrance hall.” This was the formal, visitor entrance to the Honmaru-goten Palace, complete with a Kurumayose (carriage porch) of befittingly prestigious design, as indicated by its cusped roof. Visitors waited in this building until ushered further on.

  2. Otsune-goten

    Otsune-goten

    The Otsune-goten was where occupants spent their daily lives. It has rooms such as the Goza-no-ma, where official duties were conducted from, and the Gyoshin-no-ma, which was used for rest and relaxation. Fixtures, mosquito net hooks, paintings, and other interior design features have characteristics indicative of the building’s aristocratic lineage. The upper floor has a sukiya-style tatami-covered room with a good view.

  3. Goshoin

    Goshoin

    This building was mainly for receiving visitors. It has rooms such as the Chushoin, which was the formal audience room, and the Shoshoin (Shiki-no-ma), where visitors waited. The floor, staggered shelves, paintings and other designs are characteristic of such a building. The Third Room of the Chushoin could be converted to stage Noh performances by lifting away the tatami mats, indicating how integral Noh was to entertaining for this class of society.

  4. Daidokoro and Kari-no-ma

    Daidokoro and Kari-no-ma

    The Daidokoro (kitchen) has an open ceiling, exposing the dynamic structural framework composed of interlocking struts and beams. The Kari-no-ma (lit. geese room) was a sitting room, so named because of the sliding-screen paintings depicting geese in flight.

  • Genkan

    Genkan
    Genkan literally means “entrance,” or “entrance hall.” This was the formal, visitor entrance to the Honmaru-goten Palace, complete with a Kurumayose (carriage porch) of befittingly prestigious design, as indicated by its cusped roof. Visitors waited in this building until ushered further on.
  • Otsune-goten

    Otsune-goten
    The Otsune-goten was where occupants spent their daily lives. It has rooms such as the Goza-no-ma, where official duties were conducted from, and the Gyoshin-no-ma, which was used for rest and relaxation. Fixtures, mosquito net hooks, paintings, and other interior design features have characteristics indicative of the building’s aristocratic lineage. The upper floor has a sukiya-style tatami-covered room with a good view.
  • Goshoin

    Goshoin
    This building was mainly for receiving visitors. It has rooms such as the Chushoin, which was the formal audience room, and the Shoshoin (Shiki-no-ma), where visitors waited. The floor, staggered shelves, paintings and other designs are characteristic of such a building. The Third Room of the Chushoin could be converted to stage Noh performances by lifting away the tatami mats, indicating how integral Noh was to entertaining for this class of society.
  • Daidokoro and Kari-no-ma

    Daidokoro and Kari-no-ma
    The Daidokoro (kitchen) has an open ceiling, exposing the dynamic structural framework composed of interlocking struts and beams. The Kari-no-ma (lit. geese room) was a sitting room, so named because of the sliding-screen paintings depicting geese in flight.

Paintings in the Honmaru-goten Palace

The walls and sliding screens inside the Honmaru-goten Palace are painted with motifs of seasonal flora, landscapes, and events. Most impressive of all is the Shokaku-zu (painting of pine trees and cranes) by Kano Eigaku, whose masterful execution—exquisitely detailed delineation of each and every feather of the birds, and a vivid palette against a powdered gold leaf background—complements the prestigious interior space of the palace. Many of the painters responsible were involved also in the decoration of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and their high-caliber work stands as a rare testament to the splendor of imperial court culture during the closing years of the Edo period.

Shokaku-zu by Kano Eigaku, sliding screen painting, Otsune-goten
Shokaku-zu by Kano Eigaku, sliding screen painting, Otsune-goten

Conservation and restoration work on the Honmaru-goten Palace

Restoration work on the Honmaru-goten Palace commenced in 2017. It is being conducted to rectify the structural distortions suffered as a result of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, and ensure continued safe public access to this valuable cultural property by improving its earthquake resistance. Completion is scheduled for 2021, when the first floor of the palace is expected to be opened to the public year-round, and the convertible Noh stage in the Goshoin will be made available for cultural events.

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