[2018 Kyoto Momiji Trip Report] Day 1 – The “fLOWERS” of Nijo Castle

Welcome to our first trip report series, from the trip I had last November. I was in Kyoto doing on-the-ground research for a writing project. While I was there, I had the opportunity to enjoy the maple season in Japan for the first time.

Japan’s maple season is usually during late October to earlier December. Exact timing would depends of weather conditions (in particular the cold). In 2018, the weather was not cold enough until almost December, so the season dragged longer than other years. That makes estimating the crowds a lot more difficult than usual. And on the week I intended to go, there’s a public holiday on the Friday (November 23rd). It made booking for hotels extra difficult and costly, and I had no choice but went in one week earlier, on the 15th.

fLOWERS at Nijo Castle
My flight arrived Kansai International Airport at 2:30 pm local time. The sky gets dark quite early in Japan, especially in winter. I know on the first day, I won’t have much time getting good daylight photos. Thus, my plan was to make sure I got one of the spots that had night time light ups, right after landing.

Enter Nijo Castle, which in 2018 had arranged a light up event for the first time. This event, named fLOWERS by NAKED, is the work of creative production company Naked. They had been holding events surrounding the theme of flowers at Tokyo for the past few years. Since the Nijo Castle event is the first time they held the art show in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I knew I had to be there.

So, right after dropping off my luggage at the hotel near Shijo station, I hopped on the Kyoto Subway to the castle. Getting there is simple enough, as Tōzai Line had a station right next to the castle. (Note: Nijojo-Mae Station is the right one for you. Nijo Station is too far from the entrance). From Shijo Station, all I need is ride one stop to Karasuma Oike Station, then transfer to Tōzai Line.

Map of the surroundings of Nijo Castle. Clink on the image for the map in Google Maps.
Map of the surroundings of Nijo Castle. Clink on the image for the map in Google Maps.

This is the second time I have been to the castle, and the first time at dusk. It’s actually quite dark when I arrived.

Higashi-Ōtemon of Nijo Castle, illuminated by spotlight
Visitors are waiting outside the main gate.

It’s a different feeling from daytime, with the castle basking in moon and artificial lights.

The first spectacle is already waiting for the visitors, behind the main gate (Higashi-Ōtemon, or 東大手門). Kara-mon (唐門), the main gate to the main ground of the castle, basked in colourful light projections, with accompanying sound effects.

Once inside, I headed towards Ninomaru Gardens (二の丸庭園) on the left side. There, Illumination highlighted the stone sculptures and the small forest in the garden. The trees hadn’t turn colours at the time of my visit, but it’s still quite pleasant to look at.

Since Honmaru (本丸) was not open for the exhibition, I headed to Seiryu-en Garden. It’s where the next part of the light show was. Small lanterns dotted along the pathway towards Seiryn-en with beautiful patterns of autumn.

Ninomaru Gardens under the moonlight.

I also caught a glimpse of the inner moat surrounding the Honmaru area in near darkness.

Fun fact: Seiryu-en is the newest part on the castle grounds. The city government of Kyoto constructed it in 1965, as a venue for reception of official guests of the city. It had the mixed style of traditional Japanese and Western gardens, tall trees and pathways among the vegetation. With spotlights illuminating the trees in vibrant colours, the garden seemed magical and alive.

Looping back to the entrance area, I returned to the Dokoro (台所, or kitchen) building. There stand a collage of beautiful colors, in the form of Autumn flowers projected on the walls. Interactive virtual flowers bloom on the walls, in respond to visitors in front of the walls.

Inside the Dokoro building were the installation art pieces of the exhibition. Floral arrangements with multi-color light projections form one of the main attractions. It was the collaboration of Ikebonō, the oldest school of Ikebana floral arrangements, as well as Naked. There are also interactive art pieces of various flowers, as well as a field of glass under the moon. It was tranquil and soothing, walking through the fields, yet everything was indoors.

Returning to the entrance, and the show had came to an end. The show made good use of interactive art. A similar example of such will be stuff from teamLab. Naked done their production in a smaller and intimate way in comparison . fLOWERS at Nijo Castle was a beautiful, romantic and elegant experience. While this was a first for Naked to combine historical site with their work, this could become a Kyoto tradition.

While you can only see glimpses of what I experienced here, there’s another chance for you to see for yourself, coming up this month. fLOWERS by Naked will have their first event of 2019, at Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall, at COREDO Marumachi in Tokyo. The show will run from January 29th to March 3rd, opening hours will be from 10am to 8pm daily. For more information, please go to the official site.

Grass under moonlight? 😛

A little preview: on the next day of this trip, a small trip to a holy side turn historical grounds, then movie set. Also, a magical pond at night. Stay tuned!