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A History Lovers Guide to Kyoto 
 
by Mark R. Whittington August 22, 2005

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Until the restoration of 1868, this was the residence of the Japanese Imperial family. The palace burnt down and was moved around the city several times over the centuries. The present reconstruction dates from 1855. The palace complex is enclosed by a long wall and consists of several gates, halls and gardens. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is rectangular in shape, about 450m north-south and 250m east-west, covering an area of approximately 110,000 square meters. The Shishinden or Ceremonial Hall is the main building. The Seiryoden, the Kogosho, and several other structures are also located here. To the south of the Shishinden is the Dan-tei or Courtyard of white sand. On its three sides is a white walled corridor with bright vermilion pillars.

The palace can be visited only on guided tours held by the Imperial Household Agency. In order to join a tour, you need to apply for permission in advance with your passport at the agency's office in the Kyoto Imperial Park.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built by Tukugawa Ieyasu as his Kyoto residence around 1600. The palace building now known as Ninomaru or secondary castle was completed in 1603 and enlarged by Ieyasu's grandson Iemitsu. It contains decorated sliding doors and floors that squeak like nightingales when someone walks on them as a security measure against intruders. Iemitsu also added the Honmaru or main castle including a five storied castle tower, walls, and a moat. The original, however, was destroyed by fire in the 18th Century and the present structure was moved here from the imperial palace in 1893.

Following the wall around will bring the visitor to the Kara Mon or Chinese Gate which is the entrance into the Ninomaru Palace. Decorated by cranes, flowers, and butterflies on the outer panels and Chinese tigers, lions and a dragon on the inner panels this gate is a splendid sight. The main complex of Ninomaru Palace is a group of five buildings staggering to the northwest. The first group of buildings is the Carriage Porch or Karuma Yose followed by the Tozamurai. It was in this building that visitors would wait for an audience with the shogun. The next building is called Shikidai, followed by Ohiroma. In Ohiroma there are several mannequins in traditional garb, sitting in on an audience with the shogun. The next building, the Kuroshoin, is connected to Ohiroma by a long chamber and was reserved for the friends and family of the shogun. The last building, Shiro-shoin, was the shogun's residence, where only his wives and concubines were allowed. The further one made it into the compound the more distinguished and high ranking they were. All of the buildings, except the Shiro-shoin, have paintings that use brilliant colors and heavy amounts of gilt. Tigers, birds, flowers, and massive trees are some of the themes displayed in the paintings. On the other hand, the paintings in the shogun's living quarters are more subdued and feature mountain and water scenes in softer shades than the rest of the palace.

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