Three temples, a shrine, palace and a singing castle – day 3 kept us on the move and entertained. Our tour guide was entertaining, interesting and very creative…at least he had some pretty good stories! Nijo Castle, our first stop, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was as beautiful as it was intriguing. While the castle itself really doesn’t “sing,” it has a floor that does! Built in 1603, the castle was initially the home of a very famous Shogun, Ieyasu. Until 1867 it served as the home of several shoguns, then becoming the property of the Imperial family.
As we arrived at the castle itself our tour guide invited us to peer under the castle itself, where the structure of “Nightingale Floor” could be viewed. I saw wooden beams with some metal “things” attached and a deck surface for walking. I wished my husband was there to explain to me what made this floor “sing.” I moved along making peace with the fact that my ever-questioning mind may never have the answer. Once inside, walking down this chirping floor was pretty incredible – it was loud, it was unmistakable and it did chirp. This floor was built to warn the shogun of unwelcome visitors or intruders that might want to harm the him. There was no doubt in my mind that this 17th century alarm system was effective. Winding around the perimeter of the castle, the Nightingale floor provided an opportunity to see the magnificent rooms and hear stories (not sure they were all true!) about the form and function of each.
The palace has about 33 rooms including reception rooms, waiting rooms, an audience chamber, living quarters and offices. Each of the rooms has golden colored wall panels covered with beautiful paintings. The ceilings were also adorned with incredible paintings. In fact, I am told that the palace contains over 3,000 paintings! In various rooms, our tour guide pointed out “secret doors” that were cleverly built into the wall panels. We were told that shogun guards hid behind these doors during meetings (always close to the position that the shogun would occupy in the room) so that they could jump out and kill any visitor who tried to harm the shogun. Another form of protection (as told by our tour guide) was requiring that visitors change clothes before meeting with the shogun. The meet-the-shogun attire consisted of floor length pants with billowing pant legs. If any visitor tried to make a threatening move toward the shogun, a nearby guard could just step on the pant leg and stop the perpetrator in his tracks…actually before he made any tracks!
The idiom, “not my cup of tea” originated from this very castle – or so we were told! 🙂 In the Edo period it was common for the shogun to have concubines. When choosing his concubine for the evening, each woman would stand in front of the shogun holding a cup of tea. Offering the tea to the shogun, the concubine would either be accepted…or rejected. The shogun actually rejected the tea, not the concubine by saying “that is not my cup of tea!” Those clever shoguns…