There’s something about castles and palaces that fascinates me. Maybe, because it is a reminder of the times when the kings, emperors and feudal lords hold all the power, the treasures and the secrets of the land, or mostly because I am more interested with their clothes and traditions, when a simple tea preparation requires a ceremony.
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan and the Imperial Palace is the proof of that. Built as the residence of the Imperial family and located inside a 1300m long park by 700m wide Imperial Park, the current palace is the 1855 reconstruction of the original after it has been burned down and destroyed several times.
Visiting the palace is for free but requires a mandatory advance reservation, using a guided tour (English/Japanese) with the Imperial Household Agency located just outside the park or via their website. I was lucky not to go through all the hassle of application during my visit; since it was the month on which entrance is possible without any reservation. The security is quite high and be ready for your stuff to be thoroughly checked. I decided to visit the palace early morning on my last day at Kyoto, on my way to the shinkansen station, so I was carrying my backpack and needed to unpack some of my stuff for inspection. But the good thing is there is a free storage service to leave your bags for those who will decide to do the same.
Located within the central part of the city is Nijo Castle. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle was built in 1603 and the former residence of Tokugawa Leyasu the first shogun of Japan’s Edo Period.
Nijo castle is quite spacious, so be ready for a long stroll. The castle grounds are divided into three area- Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and a traditional landscape garden. Visitors get a chance to enter Ninomaru Palace via the elegantly decorated karamon gate. What you will find inside the palace are different chambers built for different purpose and somehow explains the social standing of the shogun times. Outer area chambers are for low ranking visitors while higher ranking officials were received at the inner chambers.
You will be asked to remove your shoes to enter the Ninomaru not only to keep the palace clean but mainly for visitors to experience hearing the squeaking noise of the wooden floor, which is the significant feature of palace. It was purposely built to protect the shogun and occupants from underhanded assassin attacks. Yup, just like in the movies.