30 July, 2016

Nijō castle in Kyoto

WARNING: some Japanese history coming up!

We visited a Japanese castle when we were in Kyoto. It was built by the famous Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as his Kyoto headquarters at the start of the 1600s. This is a flat-land castle and looks a lot different to European castles (not that I've ever been to one, just seen photos). 
In this case it includes two layers of fortifications (moats and formidable stone walls). Inside those are gardens and two palaces in traditional Japanese style. It's one of more than a dozen places in and around Kyoto that have been designated by UNESCO as a (single) World Heritage Site.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate that virtually ruled Japan for nearly 300 years from 1600. He was a powerful lord who seized power in 1600 and was appointed by the emperor as shogun (hereditary military dictator) in 1603.

I've been doing a little bit of reading about him, here's a summary of what I've learned. He was born in 1543 towards the end of a century called the Age of Warring States, where there was no central control over the country, though there still was an Emporor in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, he had no real power over the country. 

Ieyasu's mother was sent back to her family when he was two and never lived with Ieyasu's father again. His father was killed when he was six. And he lived much of his childhood as a hostage because there was warring within his family.

The 45 years leading up to Tokugawa Ieyasu becoming shogun was a gradual period of unification (subduing) the country by a few powerful men, the most well known being Hideyoshi. One of the things this guy did was a "sword hunt", banning all non-samurai from owning weapons. To this day there are very strict laws about weapons of any sort in Japan, including knives!

Hideyoshi even tried to invade Korea twice in the 1590s, with the goal of taking over China (he was quite brilliant, but a little megalomaniacal), but suffered an untimely death in 1598. Hideyoshi's only heir was five at the time. 

Hideyoshi had established a regency council of leading lords, however within two years Ieyasu had gotten half to sign allegiance to him and then, at 59 years of age, he won a decisive battle near Kyoto in 1600, and became the de facto ruler of the country. In 1602 the Emperor gave Ieyasu the title of shogun.

Ieyasu moved the capital to Edo (now called Tokyo) and handed his son the shogun title in 1605. During the remaining eleven years of his life he spent consolidating the position of his family, including devising a complex administration structure to create a viable system for ruling this decentralised country. Having traveled a bit now in Japan, it amazes me that anyone was able to do that at all. The country has many nooks and crannies that are difficult to access, even today with motorised vehicles. 

One of the keys was that all the 300 feudal lords had to travel to Edo on a regular basis. Also there was a rigid class structure set up, so everyone know where in society they were and how they should behave. You see still reflections of this in Japanese language and culture today.

He managed to create a system that maintained peace and foster growing prosperity for over two centuries. However there was significant xenophobia and the doors to the outside world were closed for most of that time. It was Ieyasu that sighed a Christian Expulsion Edit in 1614 which banned the practice of Christianity and led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries, marking the end of open Christian witness until the 1870s.

Back to Nijō castle
It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu (but funded by the feudal lords of Western Japan) as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa family. They were living in Tokyo, but still obviously came to Kyoto at times. Especially because the Emperor still resided in Kyoto (until the late 1800s).
This is one of the outside walls of the Ninomaru palace. The white is paper-
covered sliding doors! I don't know what happens when it rains.
There are two palaces in the complex, but we could only see inside one of them: Ninomaru. It is a wooden building that was used for administrative meetings. The rooms are huge, all covered with traditional tatami flooring. 

This was part of one of the gardens on the grounds.
I want to say that it is filled with beautiful artwork, but that gives you the impression of paintings on walls, statues on pedestals etc. But that's not what it is like at all. The walls are covered with amazing paintings that includes gold , the ceilings too. The upper parts of some of the walls separating rooms have incredible carvings that go all the way through, but are completely different images on each side. We were not allowed to take photos, so all I can offer you is this webpage.

The floors of the corridors are famous and called "nightingale floors". They squeak when you walk on them and have been constructed to prevent anyone from sneaking into the palace undetected.

Ieyasu came to the castle in 1603, but he never entered the Ninomaru palace as that wasn't completed until 1626, after he'd died.

The palace was where authority was returned to the Imperial Court in 1867. In 1939 the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public the following year.

I'm enjoying this, I've always liked history, but never really gotten into Japanese history. My resolve is to keep reading and learning about Japanese history this year and hopefully well beyond that!

However that's probably enough history for here for one day! 

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