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April 7th 2016
Published: April 7th 2016
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The heavens opened today and it poured, washing many fragile cherry blossom petals into the gutters. I think we may have had the best of the season though there will still be some blooms around and it is expected to clear tomorrow.
Limited to inside activities, we had a slow start and a short day - a good rest for Deborah's foot and Danny's back.

We visited the Ninomaru Palace at Nijo-jo Castle, built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the final great unifier of Japan and founder of the Edo era. It is the classic example of shoin-zakura architecture, that beautiful style typified by sliding sliding screens, tatami mats and elegant tokonoma alcoves where one precious piece is displayed. Ninomaru is famous for its 'nightingale floor', a corridor that squeaks when you walk on it so as to act as a security system. The flow of rooms is designed to resemble the flight of a flock of wild geese and the layout and decoration of each rooms indicates the status of those received there by the shogun. The public rooms all have beautiful grand works from the Kano school depicting scenes from nature, always against a lavish gold ground. It was great seeing them in situ rather than just in a museum and really gave a sense of what it would have been like to pass through these rooms to be received by the all-powerful military dictator. one room had paintings of tigers and leopards - Japan didn't have tigers and the Japanese thought leopards were female tigers. In another room a huge pine was designed to appear as a canopy over the elevevated area where the shogun sat. There are remarkable carvings which, although 3 D, are viewed as peonies from one side and peacocks from the other. The ceilings have floral motifs and even the nail covers are ornately engraved, often with the three leafed wild ginger which looks like an Irish clover but was the Tokugawa emblem. Interestingly at the grand gate the emblem has been over-stamped with chrysanthemum, the imperial emblem from when the palace was relinquished in 1867, the beginning of the Meiji era.

The private rooms are decorated much more subtly with elegant sumi-e ink scenes of mountains and plants, much easier to live with.
Shoin zakura architecture is designed to look over gardens but to protect the art all the screens were closed and the light was low. It was too wet to visit the garden and no photos were allowed in the palace so not many images today.

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