Experience history as you walk along Nijo Castle's nightingale floors. With every few steps, the floors squeak, announcing to everyone that someone is on the prowl. The nightingale floors also tell a story – about power and history – that revolves around the castle and those that built it. Nijo Castle is a magnificent landmark of the Tokugawa Shogunate's rise to ascendancy. It is designed to awe and impress, and it continues to do so, even up to now.

Nijo Castle is located in Kyoto's center and is composed of the Ninomaru Palace, the Honmaru Palace, which each has a wall and a wide moat. Other support buildings between the two fortifications include the kitchens, the guardhouse, the carriage porch, and some gardens. At present, there are mannequins placed in specific areas to give you a complete picture of life at the Nijo Castle during the time of the Shogunate.

Tokugawa Ieyasu had the castle built as a symbol of his power in 1603. The castle's primary purpose was to impress, as this served as Ieyasu's official audience hall. Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate, and as its first Shogun, he commanded all the defeated feudal lords of Western Japan to contribute to the building of the castle. As an added security precaution, Ieyasu had the floors designed in such a way that all would know that someone is walking in the halls. Thus, the famous uguisu bari or nightingale floors prevent someone from prowling about unnoticed. He also posted hidden guards in the room.

The design of the fortresses provides an insight into how social hierarchy works during the feudal period. The higher a person's rank and position, the further and higher they can get into the castle's interior.

The Ninomaru Palace is renowned for its Momoyama architecture and is an impressive structure made almost entirely of cypress wood. It is also lavishly adorned with intricate wood carvings and gold leaf trimmings, again pointing out to the Shogunate's great wealth. The doors and walls of the palace are decorated with paintings by artists of the Kano school. The paintings, usually depicting landscapes and natural scenes, are tourist attractions in their own right.

Entry into the Ninomaru Palace is through the Chinese Gate (Kara Mon), which is impressive. It is elaborately designed with flowers, butterflies, and cranes from the outside and lions, tigers, and a dragon from the inside. It also bears the imperial seal – the chrysanthemum.

The Honmaru Palace, or the main building, contains the Retainers Room, the Reception Room, entertainment rooms (for family and friends of the Shogun), and the Shogun's rooms. It also houses masterpieces by famous artists, such as Kano Eigaku. The present Honmaru Palace is actually relocated from the Imperial Palace. Fires devasted the original honmaru during the 18th century.

Gardens and groves of ume and cherry trees surround the fortifications. The Ninomaru Garden was designed by Kobori Enshu, a famous landscape artist. It has a small lake with three islands that are linked by bridges. The garden is designed to flaunt the four seasons in all their glory. The rocks in this garden were made to face south so that the Shogun would have an unobstructed view of the garden from his window. The Seiryu-en garden, a recent addition (if you call 1965 recent), is adorned with over 1,000 artfully arranged stones. It also has two tea houses and is used to receive official guests and host cultural events.

The Nijo Castle is one of Japan's major cultural treasures. It is no wonder that UNESCO has declared it as part of its World Heritage List. Walk the paths where the shoguns once trod and get the feel of history come to life.