Digital Art on Ancient Walls: Kyoto’s Nijō Castle Lit Up in High-Tech Show

Guide to Japan

Nijō Castle has stood in Kyoto’s Nakagyō district for more than four centuries. Now, in an event called “Flowers by Naked 2018,” the castle’s features including the Karamon gate, a designated Japanese National Important Cultural Asset, and the Ninomaru Gardens, a designated Special Place of Scenic Beauty, are being decorated with the latest in digital technology. In an artistic concept described as “flowers and tradition,” immersive art experiences are to be had throughout the castle grounds, including projective mapping and videos of flower petals that fall away when touched, as well as a collaboration with the Ikenobō flower arrangement school.

Numerous flowers are projection mapped onto the Karamon gate.

Built by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) in 1603, the dawn of the Edo period, to be his Kyoto residence, Nijō Castle was occupied soon after construction was completed, as Ieyasu was made shōgun by imperial decree. After making his obeisance at the imperial court, Ieyasu held a celebration at Nijō Castle in honor of his appointment. In 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837–1913), the fifteenth shōgun, returned political power to the emperor and ended the Edo period, also at Nijō Castle. Thus, the era can be said to have both begun and ended there.

While the tenshukaku (main keep) of the castle has long since burned to the ground, other parts of the facilities remain intact to dazzle tourists. These include Ninomaru Palace, designated a National Treasure, where Yoshinobu announced the restoration of imperial power to an assembly of senior vassals from all of the feudal-era domains; the breathtaking Ninomaru Gardens; the Karamon gate; and paintings of the Kanō school on fusuma sliding doors and walls, designated Important Cultural Assets. In 1994, Nijō Castle was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the assets of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

Ninomaru Gardens by night, reflected in the mirrorlike surface of the lit-up pond. At left is the great hall of Ninomaru Palace, where the restoration of imperial power took place.

“We consider all living things of beauty in the world to be ‘flowers,’” says Muramatsu Ryōtarō, CEO of Naked Inc., who managed direction of the installation. “We maximized the magnificence and significance of the World Heritage Site that is Nijō Castle and combined it with various flowers—not just using cosmos or other autumnal blossoms, but also treating fallen autumn leaves, Japanese plume grass, and the like as flowers for these purposes.” Such a lively event taking place in the autumn at Nijō Castle, which has few trees turning autumn colors to begin with, is sure to be pleasing to tourists. See it daily from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm through December 9.

At the entrance, “Big Book: First Autumn Breeze” presents an overview of the event to visitors.

“Path of Falling Leaves” is an installation in the castle’s kitchens, which are themselves designated an Important Cultural Asset. Walking through here causes the leaves to move and creates sounds of leaves crunching underfoot.

“Autumn Storm,” a collaboration between Naked Inc. and Ikenobō, a flower arranging school dating back to the Muromachi period (1333-1568), on display in the kitchens.

Scents of cosmos and dandelions waft through the kitchens. Blow on the blossoms in these three-dimensional video installations and their seeds and petals fall away.

Stalks of hanasusuki (flowering plume grass), an installation in the kitchens, make it seem like visitors are looking up at the moon while still indoors. The mirrors mounted on the walls heighten the sense of standing in a vast field of plume grass.

Otherworldly views from the illuminated autumn foliage lining the paths outdoors.

Flowers by Naked 2018”
  • 5:30 pm–10:00 pm, November 3–December 9, 2018
  • Admissions close at 9:00 pm
  • Adults: ¥1,200; 11 and under: ¥800
  • Website:

By train: from Kyoto Station, take Karasuma Subway Line to Karasumaoike Station, change to Tōzai Subway Line, get off at Nijō-jō-mae Station

By bus: Kyoto City Bus lines 9, 50, or 101 to Nijō-jō-mae stop

(Originally published in Japanese. Reporting, photography, and video by Fujii Kazuyuki.)

Kyoto tourism World Heritage autumn foliage castle Kansai