Introduction to Nijo-jo Castle


Ninomaru Garden [Special Place of Scenic Beauty]

Documentary and stylistic evidence suggests that this garden was laid out around 1602–1603 (during the rule of Ieyasu), when Nijo-jo Castle itself was built, in a style complementary to the architecture, with some later modifications made on the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu in preparation for the 1626 imperial visit by Emperor Go-Mizuno-o.
The Ninomaru Garden is considered a Shoin-zukuri style garden, representing the world of Chinese mythological immortals. It is also referred to as the Hachijin-no-niwa (lit. garden of eight formations). At the time of the 1626 Imperial Visit, the garden was laid out as a sort of courtyard garden surrounded by the newly built Gyoko-goten Palace, Chugu-goten Palace, and Nagatsubone, among other buildings. In the pond was a gazebo, and three islands spanned by four bridges. The garden was designed to be viewed mainly from three directions: from the Ohiroma Jodan-no-ma (Shogun’s seat) and Kuro-shoin Jodan-no-ma (Shogun’s seat) of the Ninomaru-goten Palace, and from the Gyoko–goten Palace Jodan-no-ma (Emperor’s seat) and gazebo.

The view of the garden from the Ohiroma is thought to have been particularly impressive because it would have partially included the now lost donjon. The Ninomaru Garden’s surrounding buildings, which were built for the 1626 imperial visit, were either dismantled or moved to another location over the 25 years from 1627, gradually blurring the original intention of garden designer Kobori Enshu. After the third Shogun Iemitsu’s visit, it took another 229 years, or nearly until the very end of Tokugawa rule, for another Shogun—fourteenth Shogun Iemochi—to visit Nijo-jo. Not much was recorded about the garden during this time, but it is known to have been remodeled once, during the rule of Shogun Yoshimune (ruled 1716–1745).

By the time the last and fifteenth Shogun Yoshinobu (ruled 1866–67) visited, the garden was in a rundown state—almost bared of trees and with a dried-up pond contributing to a dry-landscape-garden look. After the restoration of imperial rule, different bodies administered Nijo-jo Castle in close succession. Under the management of the Imperial Household Office, the castle underwent more than five renovations, and was used as an imperial villa and state guest house. During its time as a villa, major planting work was conducted, which significantly altered the garden from what it was at the close of the Edo period, and more or less established the garden’s current look. After the castle came under the management of Kyoto City, the Ninomaru Garden received a National Place of Scenic Beauty designation in 1939, and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty designation in 1953. Today, the garden is managed and maintained as a cultural legacy and tourism asset.

Honmaru Garden

No documentary evidence survives to show what the Honmaru Garden looked like when it was first laid out, but the garden is thought to have at least rivalled the Ninomaru Garden in splendor. When flying sparks from the 1788 Great Tenmei Fire ignited and destroyed the Honmaru-goten, Sumi-yagura, and Tamon-yagura, and other structures, the garden probably caught fire too, and was left bared. When the last Shogun Yoshinobu built his own quarters within the Honmaru, the garden was laid out in the tea garden style.

The structure was dismantled in 1881 due to decay, and the garden was cleared away as well. From 1893 to 1894, work was conducted to move parts of the former Katsura-no-miya residence, which stood on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, to the empty space. At the same time, the garden was newly laid out in the dry landscape style.

The garden as it appears today—a lawn-covered tsukiyama (artificial hill) garden—dates from 1896. The remodeling of the original dry landscape garden was ordered by Emperor Meiji, who visited the Honmaru on May 23, 1895. Work took almost seven months to complete. The design likely reflects the mid-Meiji era vogue for Western-style gardens. The lawn-covered garden has an artificial hill in the southeast corner, and winding paths. Planted along the stone steps are shrubs, such as ring-cupped oak and red-tip photinia. Stone lanterns, large garden stones and other features provide welcome accents.

Seiryu-en Garden

Seiryu-en Garden

When Nijo-jo Castle was originally built (in 1603, the time of Tokugawa Ieyasu), the northern section of the grounds, where Seiryu-en Garden is, appears to have had a walkway connecting buildings, and a part of the donjon, judging from contemporary illustrations, such as folding screens depicting scenes in and around Kyoto. When the castle underwent a major renovation (1624–1626, the time of Iemitsu), the donjon was moved to Yodo Castle, leaving this section empty. During or after the Kan’ei era (1624–45), housing for zaiban-shu (samurai guards responsible for the running and upkeep of Nijo-jo Castle) were built here. It is known that buildings of one form or another existed here throughout the Edo period, except for a brief period following the Great Tenmei Fire, when they would have been destroyed. The tract of land was turned into a green space after the zaiban-shu houses were removed in the early Meiji era.

Banqueting venues were built here when the castle hosted Emperor Taisho’s coronation banquet in 1915. These were dismantled when the castle’s renovation began in 1916, though some were rebuilt at Sakura-no-baba in Okazaki. The site was subsequently turned into a sorin-style garden (“open forest garden”) by renowned garden designer Ogawa Jihee.

In 1950, the same place was turned into tennis courts for the occupying Allied Forces. The present Seiryu-en Garden was laid out in 1965. Parts of the former Suminokura Ryoi residence in Kawaramachi Nijo, as well as its garden stones and trees, were gifted to create the gardens. Gifts of inscribed or notable garden stones, and other materials, were made also by donors in various parts of the country. Work on the garden commenced and completed in 1965. The garden was named Seiryu-en by the then Kyoto mayor Gizo Takayama. The eastern half of this eclectic garden is a lawn-covered Western-style garden, and the western half is a Japanese chisen-kaiyu (strolling pond) garden, which also incorporates two teahouses, making the garden both practical and aesthetically pleasing.

Highlights of Seiryu-en Garden



This teahouse, dating from 1965, resulted by moving to this location an existing teahouse from the former Suminokura Ryoi residence in Kyoto’s Takasegawa Ichino Funairi, and expanding it by combining it with another teahouse. The latter was gifted by the Omotesenke school of tea, and was modelled after the famous teahouse Zangetsu-tei (lit. dawn moon pavilion), so named because warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi is said to have enjoyed the dawn moon from the building.

Suminokura Ryoi (1554–1614) was a merchant known for his role in the river engineering works on the Hozukyo section of the Katsura River, and on the Takase River. His descendants, the Suminokura family, maintained a prominent presence throughout the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration, the family mansion was managed by the Kyoto prefectural government, which used it as a training center for textile workers. The property subsequently passed into the hands of Osaka-based tycoon Tanaka Ichibee, who used it as a villa.

Waraku-an serves as a venue for tea ceremonies held for Japanese and overseas dignitaries and guests. It also hosts the annual grand autumn tea ceremony organized by Kyoto City for members of the public. At other times, it serves as a rest area, where the visiting public can enjoy tea.



Like Waraku-an, this teahouse was moved from the former Suminokura Ryoi residence.

Koun-tei is normally closed to the public. Its south elevation can be seen from the garden. For limited periods in summer and winter, it is used as a dining venue. It is also used as a venue for “Nijo-jo Weddings.”