Ancient Kyoto: Nijō Castle
Location: Kyoto, Japan, Asia
Theme: Palaces & Castles
Kyoto, Japan’s imperial capital from 794 A.D. until 1869 is known for its Nijojo Castle, once home to the Tokugawa shoguns, and for its many temples and gardens.
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Ancient Kyoto: Nijō Castle
Kyoto was the main centre for the evolution of religious and secular architecture and of garden design between the 8th and 17th centuries, and as such it played a decisive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions which, in the case of gardens in particular, had a profound effect on the rest of the world from the 19th century onwards. Buddhism had already been introduced from China and Chinese culture was having a profound influence on Japan when the capital was moved from Heijo-ko (Nara), after 10 years at Nagaoka, to Kyoto, under the name of Heian-ko, in AD 794. The city plan was modelled on Chinese cities such as Changshan, capital of Tang China. It was the heart of the aristocratic society that clustered around the imperial court for the four centuries of the Heian period (794-1192). For most of this period there was a prohibition on the building of Buddhist temples inside the city, apart from the two imperial temples (To-ji and Sai-ji).
Properties on the World Heritage site that date from the foundation of Heian-kyo are Karmwakeikauchi-jinja (Shinto shrine), Amomioya-jinja (Shinto shrine), Kyo-o-gokoku-ji To-ji (Buddhist temple), Kiyornim-dera (Buddhist temple), and Enryaku-ji (Buddhist temple); the two large Buddhist temples of Daigo-ji and Ninna-ji are representative of the early Heian period. By the end of the Heian period the military samurai class was growing in power, and the resulting unrest, coupled with the fact that the world would enter its final years, according to Buddhist doctrine, in 1052, led to an increase in religious fervour. The Buddhist temple of Byodo-in and the Ujigami-jinja date from this period.
A civil war in 1185 led to the establishment of a samurai military regime at Kamakum; however, the imperial court remained at Kyoto. The Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji is the best example of the residential architecture of this period, which ended in 1332 with the establishment of the Muromachi Shogunate. This period saw the building of large temples of the Rinzai Zen sect, such as Temyu-ji, and the creation of Zen gardens, of which that at Saiho-ji is a representative example.
At the end of the 14th century, the Muromachi Shogunate reached the apogee of its power, and this is reflected in buildings such as the villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which later became the Buddhist temple Rokuon-ji. The villa of a later shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, built in a more refined style in the mid-15th century, was also converted into a temple, Jisho-ji. Garden design was refined into pure art, as demonstrated by the garden of the abbot's residence at Ryoan-ji. Much of Kyoto was destroyed in the Onin War (1467-77), but it was rebuilt by a new urban merchant class, who replaced the aristocrats who had fled during the war. In 1568 Oda Nobunaga seized power, and he was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified the country and built a 23 km wall round Kyoto. The centre of power moved to Edo (present-day Tokyo) when a new shogunate was established under Tokugawa Ieyasu. The authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate was given material form in Kyoto with the construction of the strong castle of Ngo-jo at the heart of the city. At the same time Hideyoshi's defences were dismantled.
The political stability of the Momoyama period (1573-1614) saw a new spirit of confidence among both the military and the merchants, reflected in the opulence and boldness of the architecture, represented by the Sanpo-in residential complex and garden at Daigo-jo and the prayer and reception halls at the Buddhist temple of Hongan-ji, moved from Osaka to Kyoto as a symbol of the city's revival. The beginning of the long Edo period (1615-1867) saw Heian temples and shrines, such as Kiyomimdera, being restored in traditional style. During this period the supremacy of Kyoto as a centre of pilgrimage became established. After the Meiji restoration of 1868 the capital and the imperial court moved to Tokyo.
One of the results was the adoption of a modernization policy that led to the transformation of Kyoto into a modern city. This caused the city's cultural heritage to be neglected; however, the national government was aware of what was happening, and introduced the first ordinance for the protection of antiquities in 1871. This was superseded in 1897 by the important Ancient Shrines and Temples Preservation Law, which marked the beginning of the protection and conservation programmes of modern Japan.
When Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the construction of the vast Nijojo Castle in 1603, he wanted his home to demonstrate how powerful he and his samurai warriors were. Still, he worried about attacks, and he installed a “nightingale” floor that made the sound of bird song when people walked on it – a sure way to know if dangerous intruders were headed his way.
Kyoto is located 327 kilometers (203 miles) southwest of Tokyo, and has a population of 1.5 million. It was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, and remains a major cultural center. It is also well known for its Gion District, where beautiful geishas in silk kimonos perform elaborate tea ceremonies and classical dances, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century.
The vast Nijojo, sometimes called Nijo, Castle is a series of buildings connected by covered walkways. The castle is protected by two moats, with impossible-to-climb stone walls between them – a design meant to show people the mighty power of the shogun. Those lucky enough to gain entrance to the castle walked through the wide and deep Karamon Gate, decorated with gold-plated fixtures.
Much of the castle is devoted to the Ninomaru reception rooms, a complex of connected buildings. In the first of these chambers, the Ohiroma Ichi-no-ma—visiting feudal lords—would bow before the shogun, who would be seated in solitary splendor on a raised wooden stage.
Many of the castle walls are covered with art created by the Kano school of painters, showing nature scenes in vivid gold and green. The castle’s carefully tended gardens include a number of eye-pleasing arrangements of rocks.
While Kyoto is known for its many temples, Nijojo Castle, with its glorious art and rich history, is a singular example of a medieval Japanese castle.
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