Kimono Day and Nijo Castle

CLS-KCJS Class A, the people I see every day of my Kyoto life

Another busy day today. The CLS crowd spent the first three hours of the day taking our midterm exam. After quickly scarfing down some lunch, we piled into taxis to Kyogokoro to be dressed in kimono. We were greeted by a very cheerful crew of kimino sensei who let us choose our kimono and obi before explaining the fairly complex set of instructions needed to actually put it on. Needless to say, it took us a while. Long story short, we had a layer of undergarments and then the actual kimono, both of which had to be tied on with a number of sashes (himo) that added up to function much like a corset. The hardest part was definitely aligning the kimono just right and getting all the folds to lay just so. After the kimono was well secured, the obi was wrapped around and tied in a very pretty fashion in back. The guys had it much easier than the girls, so they were stuck waiting around for us for 30 minutes or so (and we heard that their sensei had them take their kimono on and off about 4 times just for “practice,” but probably also to kill time). As you can see, the men’s kimono are much more simple:

Boys in Kimono, Nijo Castle

After being dressed, we walked over to Nijo Castle for some sightseeing (wearing our kimono of course, which made us something of a spectacle, though I’m sure that Kyoto residents are somewhat accustomed to things like this). Anyway, I’d never been to Nijo-jo, so it was quite interesting. The castle was originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was completed in 1626 by Tokugawa Iemitsu and is one of the country’s finest examples of early Edo period design and Momoyama period (1573-1614) culture.

Anyway, despite the fact that I’ve been to a number of castles, I thought that this one was particularly interesting. The inner palace itself was very spacious–unlike other Japanese castles, everything appeared to be on one floor, but there were a number of gigantic rooms that were clearly used by the shogun to receive important guests. The sliding doors and interior of most of the rooms were painted with murals, many of which had backgrounds of gold. In some of the rooms, they had set up (somewhat eerie-looking) mannequins in period dress to illustrate what some typical scenes might have looked like. No pictures were allowed in the castle, so I can’t share, but it did create quite the atmosphere (especially when you remember that we were all wearing kimono at the time). In addition to the visual stimuli, the Ninomaru Palace has nightingale floors (uguisubari) in the corridors. To protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins, the builders constructed the floors of the corridors in such a way as to squeak like birds when anyone walks on them. Again, very atmospheric. Most of the windows and doors were shut in order to preserve the artwork, but it was easy to imagine how impressive the place would be in the full light of day.

The gardens at Nijo Castle, Kyoto

The castle is surrounded by a large garden with various ponds, waterfalls, etc. Everything was quite green. I hear that it’s especially pretty in the spring and autumn. And of course, the gardens are surrounded by a wall and a moat, in typical Japanese castle fashion:

Standing on the bridge crossing the moat

Anyway, it was great fun, but I’m definitely looking forward to having an early night tonight. Tomorrow: Arashiyama!