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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Nijo Castle

二条城

Nijo CastleLocated just outside of the downtown area of Kyoto--a short walk from Nijo-Jo Mae subway stop or Nijo Station on the JR Saiin Line--Nijo Castle was completed in 1626 and served as the Kyoto residence for the Shoguns under Tokugawa Iemitsu. The Inner Castle was destroyed in 1788, during one of the Tenmei Period (1781-1788) fires that ravaged the mostly wooden city of Miyako (Kyoto). Nijo-jo remained unused from then until 1862. In 1939 the Imperial Family donated the site to the city of Kyoto; it was opened to the public the next year. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

More recently, it has been used as film location for both Japanese and foreign films, including Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai and works involving Beat Takeshi and Nagisa Oshima.

Nijo CastleOn a rainy spring Sunday, we took some friends to the Castle who were down from Tokyo. After lunch at nearby Cucina il Viale and a short stop at Mizuno's kimchi shop, we walked across the street and into the Castle. Perhaps because of the rain, there were fewer people than normal.

The weeping cherries were in all of their glory. The light rain if anything highlighted the colors in the gardens: the shades of green, the pinks of the cherries, and more.

Aside from noisy American high school students, a group of 30 Japanese all in white hats following a young woman with a flag, and a huge tour from China--all middle-aged men with identical brand belt buckles--most of the visitors were in pairs or small groups. It made for easy navigating. At the end we climbed up to one of the parapets, at the top of a stone wall. From there, Kyoto spread out in the distance with a view of weeping cherries below us.

Nijo CastleAt the end, announcements in Japanese and English told us it was time to leave. Just then the skies briefly cleared and the rain let up.

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