Friday, March 9, 2012


Hokkaido, where we live, is a relatively new part of Japan, so this trip was my first experience with ancient Japanese history. I’ve visited a lot of old places – in Europe, Morroco, Mexico, but none of them had the “alive” feeling that the old places in Japan have. I could almost see people walking right out of that time period as we traveled.

We visited two castles on our trip – Gifu Castle in Gifu, and Nijo Castle in Kyoto.

Gifu Castle, once called Inabayama Castle, is perched on top of a hill overlooking the city of Gifu at 329 meters above sea level and was originally built about 1201 for military purposes. It became renowned throughout the nation in 1564, when Oda Nobunaga captured the castle, changing its name to Gifu and making the district a foothold for the unification of the country. In 1600, the castle was invaded and fell into the hands of the enemy force. It was destroyed in 1601 and the castle towers and turrets were transferred to Kano Castle. In July 1956, the Castle Restoration Alliances reconstructed Gifu Castle, with a historical museum inside and an observation deck on the top level.

We visited the castle with the Tatsumi family.  We walked up a very long rugged trail to get to the castle.  The view of the Nagara River and the city were well worth the hike, in addition to seeing the castle and the museum inside.

Nijo Castle was originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokygawa Shogun, Ieyasu.  It was completed in 1626 by the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. In 1867, when Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Tokugawa Shogun, returned sovereignty to the Emperor, the castle became the property of the Imperial family.  It was donated to the City of Kyoto in 1939 and designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The property contains the palace, where no photos are allowed to be taken inside, and the garden areas. There are over 3000 paintings in the palace, with 954 of them designated as Important Cultural Properties in 1982. One interesting feature of the castle was that the wood floors all squeak so that no one could sneak up without being heard. The castle has a double moat and watchtowers.

Ted and I spent several hours touring the property. Ted had been to Kyoto several times when he lived in Japan before, but hadn’t visited Nijo Castle before.  We were both fascinated by its history.

Come back tomorrow to read about some of the museums we visited.

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