Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Nijo Castle is home to a few impressive Japanese gardens; the Ninomaru Garden, the Honmaru Garden, and Seiryu-en Garden. I have visited here a few times at different seasons and it is usually fairly busy. The cherry blossoms that are scattered around really draw a crown in early spring and the autumn leaves bring a another crowd in fall. Any time of year really is a great time to visit these gardens in the center of Kyoto though.
The Ninomaru Garden
The Ninomaru Garden was designed in a Chisen Kaiyu-shiki Japanese strolling Garden featuring a pond that you can wander through taking in all of the different landscape scenes that surround you.
The Ninomaru garden was designed by the famous Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), a Famous Japanese Garden designer and tea master during the time of Tokugawa ieyasu. Some of his many famous garden designs include Katsura Imperial Villa, kodaiji, Nagoya Castle, Osaka Castle etc. Although he has some very interesting and creative takes on the Japanese garden he is probably best known as the master of tea ceremony. He became famous for his own style of tea called “Enshu-Ryu” and began designing many tea houses as well.
The garden features a large pond in the Middle with three islands. These islands symbolize the Daoist dwelling spot of the immortals known as Mt. Horai. The crane (tsuru) and turtle (kame) mountains are also represented and a part of old Daoist mythology in which the island mountains were supported on the backs of the cranes and the worthy individual were able to ride the cranes to Mt. Horai. This type of garden display is expressing “shinsen horai” (the idea of ‘eternal youth and immortality’ which were common in Taoist belief and ancient China). The garden is also known as Hachijin-no-niwa (the garden of the eight natural elements in the Chinese tradition, representing the Heavens, Earth, Wind, Clouds, Dragons, Tigers, Birds and Snakes.）
The Honmaru Garden
This Garden is more or less non-existent right now in 1788 there was a fire that broke out and Sparks with thought to have spread to the garden and nearby areas it is thought that after this the area was cleared. There really are insufficient records to show what type of garden was here but it is believed that it was not as great a garden as the Ninomaru Garden. With part of the rebuilding of the garden being started in 1895 a tsukimidai, or moon viewing place, was built but unfortunately the area is overrun with curving paths and lanterns and folders are sort of placed here and there.
Seiryu-en Garden was restored into a sorin-shiki garden (open forest style garden) by the famous Japanese garden designer, Ogawa Jihei, also known by his gardening name of Ueji. Ueji is considered a pioneer in modern Japanese garden styles that can also be seen at Murin-an, in Kyoto. This Garden eventually became a site for banquet facilities and garden gatherings for the coronation ceremony for the Emperor Taisho.
This Garden was completed in 1965 and combines Japanese style gardening with Western Styles, highlighting green grass on the east side and a Japanese section on the west side.
Nijo Castle Surrounding Trees
Ninomaru and Honmaru are surrounded by beautiful green spaces with a large variety of trees print planted throughout the castle grounds. The castle has an ume plum orchard which blooms at the end of winter usually late February early March.
There are about 400 cherry trees planted all throughout the area and a wide variety of species as well. This makes for an extra long blooming season which goes from late March through most of April. in autumn you can also find a very different look to the garden with all of the beautiful fall colors brightly creating a different look to the landscape. There are many Japanese maple and bright yellow ginkgo trees planted throughout. If you'd like to see a rare example of cherry blossom trees in the Japanese garden should check out this article about a Nara Garden not too far away.
Japanese Garden Awards The Nijo garden was specified as a place of scenic beauty in 1939 in Japan, and again as a national special place of scenic beauty in 195, then in 2005 it was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The ‘Journal of Japanese Gardening’ awarded Seiryu-en Garden 5th place and the Ninomaru Garden placed 10th. Then in 2006 Seiryu-en Garden was awarded 6th and the Ninomaru Garden ranked 8th out of 731 gardens all over Japan.
If you are in the Kyoto area I encourage you to definitely check out the impressive Japanese Gardens of Nijo Castle. If you liked the impressive Japanese gardens of Nijo Castle then I think you'll like our site Shizenstyle where we feature a variety of other Japanese gardens around and also talk about some ways to bring some modern rustic style to your home and garden.
Entry to Ninomaru is from 9:00am to 4pm
Tuesdays in January, July, August and December (or following day if Tuesday is a national holiday), December 29 to 31
English audio guides are available for 500 yen; A 90-minute guided tour of the castle in English is held twice a day for 2000 yen
Hotels Nearby Nijo Castle