I’ve seen a castle or two in my day, but Nijo castle was the one that got away. In March, I was fortunate enough to be able to see the projection mapping that has decorated the castle at night for years. It happens seasonally, sometimes in the summer, but this time in the spring. It highlights the beauty of spring on the castle grounds and the castle walls.
Flowers by Naked
The show is put together by the art group Naked, and it takes the natural landscaping and architecture of Nijo Castle as a canvas and lights as the paint to create a truly unique art-viewing experience. It’s very similar to the experience of Team Lab, if that helps orient you, except its outside at takes up most of the castle grounds.
There were interactive elements, like augmented reality, and virtual reality experiences, but we kept it cheap and just paid for the standard walk-through.
Coronavirus Safety Measures
When you first enter, you need to scan a QR code and fill out information for the city of Kyoto’s Covid tracker. Once that is complete, you step in to get your obligatory hand sanitizing. Here, however, they have turned it into art. The interactive piece, called NAKED 花蹲 – Hanatsubaki (Naked Flowers) projects blossoming cherry blossoms into the palm of your hands as you are sprayed with alcohol. Once the flowers float away, you remove your hands and rub in the disinfectant and the next person steps in to enjoy the magic.
There were also these traditional lanterns, pink and pretty, that projected cherry blossoms onto the gravel path. While fun to have bouncing at your hip, they also worked as a social distancing marker. If you were in someone’s flower blossom, then you were too close and needed to take a step back. Very clever uses of art to help reinforce safety measures, if you ask me!
Lights Around the Castle
You start at the NAKED BIG BOOK, which flips through the combined works of Ryotaro Muramatsu and Leslie Key, quite literally. The books pages come to life through the power of the projections. It was a bit difficult to see some of the finer details, given the amount of light in the area, reflected on the clouds by the moon, but it was a beautiful sight.
One of the best areas in the castle was definitely the Sakura Garden. We were there a bit early in the blossoming season, so not all the trees were in bloom, but the few that had flowers were lit brilliantly by well-placed lighting. It was quite a sight that drew quite the crowd, to boot.
While the light show at one of the main gates, the Tangmen, what really impressed me was the travel through the season projected on the castle walls around the inner moat, or uchibori (内堀). It starts with the dead trees blooming to life, brilliant pinks and whites swaying in the spring breeze. It ends with the pedals falling, a light rain stripping the tree before the green leaves can come and take the place of the flowers.
Another impressive view at night was the Xiangyun Pavilion. Now, there wasn’t any fanciful story told through projections here, just a well-manicured garden around the pavilion with color changing lights illuminating it all. The different colors gave different vibes at different points, so it behooved you to stick around to watch the complete cycle.
All in all, with the limited capacity, shorter hours, and social distancing, I felt pretty safe and had plenty of room to navigate without being close to many people. I think they did well with the event and hope that things can return to normal so more people can come to Nijo Castle and enjoy this beautiful display! Well worth the 1400 yen weekday/1800 yen weekend price of admission!