Dek found a new passion in Kyoto. Rocks. I mean really, who needs hundreds of years of history, palaces, gardens and temples. My boy had pebbles of every shape and size.
The rock switch first turned on when we stepped through the gates to Nijo Castle. Surrounded by a gravel path, the castle grounds were a rock lovers dream. Dek didn’t care that we were standing in front of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He didn’t care that castle construction began in 1603 and was completed by Shogun Iemitsu in 1626. He most definitely did not care that the castle grounds were made up of the Ninomaru Palace, Honmaru Palace and surrounding gardens. He just wanted rocks. Sometimes I wonder why we take him anywhere. Then I remember. Our travels are not only about him. It’s about us too.
Being a rock haven, strollers were not exactly easy to use. Dek had to walk most of the way, which was just fine with him. Once we entered Ninomaru Palace an attendant tagged our stroller and kept it up front until we had finished our tour of the interior. Honestly I wish I had left it with her the entire day. Strollers and gravel don’t mix as we were later reminded at the Imperial Palace.
When we got our shoes off and tucked into the provided cubbies another attendant informed us that we had to carry Dek through the building. I can understand this. With so much history, you can’t risk a toddler taking out a 400-year-old screen.
Actually the original screens had been removed a while back. They are now housed in the 400th Anniversary Gallery (also on the castle grounds.) You have to pay an extra fee to see the originals. The replicas were good enough for us.
One of our favorite aspects of the palace was not the artwork you could see. It was the “nightingale” floor. When we walked along the floorboards, they squeaked and chirped almost like birds. This was to keep the bad guys out and gave the shogun advance warning of someone approaching. There were also false walls and secret doors for the shogun’s bodyguards to jump out of at the first sign of trouble. It must have been rather stressful being the high honcho of the Edo period in Japan.
When we finished our loop of the palace, Dek was thrilled to get his shoes back on. He immediately continued his exploration of the gravel path. Meanwhile, I checked out the Ninomaru Garden.
Originally designed by master gardener Kobori Enshu (at least that’s what the pamphlet said), the garden was a wonderland of rock, water and foliage. I couldn’t help but marvel at the effort involved in maintaining such an impressive landscape. I just wanted to spread a blanket out and take a nap. Even with loads of tourists wandering around, it was so peaceful. Sadly the garden was fenced off.
We moved to the second section of the castle that housed the Honmaru Palace. At first we weren’t going to go up. There were big stairs. It was hot. Dek was getting cranky. I was getting tired of asking him not to chuck rocks at people.
I did a little scouting mission. I hadn’t paid almost $15 for Mike and I to just see a garden and the inside of one palace. Of course we didn’t consult the pamphlet we had been given when we bought our tickets. That would have been way too sensible for us. It would have also told us that another palace and garden where up there.
We weren’t able to go into the Honmaru Palace, but we did climb up to a look out station. The view was incredible. The moot, castle walls, palace and city of Kyoto stretched below us. It was hard to believe that people were living their daily lives right outside the walls. Did they take for granted that a castle was right next door to their home or office? I know I rarely appreciate the things in my own backyard (I’m working that.)
Exiting the palace grounds (not to be confused with the castle grounds), I found a small covered sitting area. I pulled out the picnic lunch I had packed. Dek kicked rocks as he munched away on his sushi. Mike and I got to enjoy a few quiet moments- a rare occurrence as Dek gets older. Come to think of it, I might just carry a bag of rocks from now on. Who needs toy cars? We’ve got gravel!
Nijo Garden Information:
- Cost: 600 yen for adults, free for kids under 2 (possibly under 5)
- Hours: 8:45am- 4pm (gates close at 5pm)
- Closed: Dec. 26-Jan. 4, and Tuesdays in January, July, August and December
For more beautiful shots of Nijo Castle, check out Wired2theWorld’s recent visit during Cherry Blossom season.