The picture above shows a view of Ninomaru Historical Garden from the top of Matsuyama Castle. The garden was top of our list of places to visit while we were in Matsuyama, thanks to a blog post I read on Uncovering Japan (the link to the post is in my Matsuyama Castle review). Looking down on it from the castle, it was easy to make out the floor plan it was based on.
The ninomaru of a Japanese castle is the second bailey, or second circle of defence. Reading up on Japanese castle architecture, I learned that in castles built before the Edo period the defensive areas were referred to as kuruwa (曲輪 or 郭). This term derives from the fact that the defensive territory occupied by a castle is determined by the walls. From the Edo period, the defensive areas enclosed by the castle walls started to be referred to as maru (丸).
Japanese castles typically have three defensive kuruwa – the honmaru (本丸) at the top, the ninomaru (二の丸) and the sannomaru (三の丸). In Rinkaku-shiki (輪郭式) castles, the kuruwa are arranged in concentric circles with the honmaru at the centre, whereas Renkaku-shiki (連郭式) castles like Matsuyama Castle have the honmaru and ninomaru alongside each other, albeit at different heights.
The ninomaru was usually the site of the living quarters for the lord of the castle and his officials, with the sannomaru used as the barracks for soldiers. Nijo Castle has its palace located in the ninomaru, and the same was true for Matsuyama Castle. In the case of Matsuyama, this is thought to be because it was easier to access from the city for the lord and his officials than the honmaru.
So now we know what the ninomaru was! At Matsuyama Castle, the original buildings of the ninomaru haven’t survived. They were destroyed by fire in 1872. In the early 1990s the site was reconstructed, following the floor plan of the original buildings, to create a stunning Japanese water garden, the Ninomaru Historical Garden. The garden is designed as a place of tranquility for visitors to enjoy the four seasons through trees and flowers. The original floor plan can be viewed on a map from 1854 which is on display in the entrance area to the garden.
The site was excavated by archaeologists prior to its conversion and a decision taken to cover over the original foundations and structures that remain in order to protect them. The foundations of some of the buildings have been marked out at ground level with low brick walls and transformed into pools, some of which have water features. Other areas are used for planting, and still others for gravel gardens.
The site of the inner palace has been transformed into the water gardens, while the front palace ruins are now the citrus and flower garden.
One original feature which has been left exposed is the large well, or ōido (大井戸). Archaeologists believe that the well was constructed for fire prevention. It is thought to have been covered over with a wooden base on top of which houses were built.
At the eastern side of the Ninomaru Historical Garden is the Rinsen-tei, which features a pond, a waterfall and a rock garden that leads up the hillside to a pair of tea ceremony rooms.
We visited the garden on our way down from the castle. The approach from the castle path takes you round the outside of the walls, which hide the garden from view. We entered through a doorway set into the walls and bought our tickets at the booth. It only costs 100円 to go in. The introductory exhibition explaining the history of the ninomaru is all in Japanese, but there are some interesting scale models and plans to look at. There is also a lot that alludes to the garden’s other ‘designation’ as a Lovers’ Sanctuary.
We visited in May, and the citrus trees that Ehime is famous for were in flower, so the garden smelled fantastic. I could have bottled the perfume from the yuzu and orange blossoms. Some huge black butterflies, that I initially thought might be small bats, also loved the blossoms. They moved too quickly for me to grab a photograph of them, though!
Also still just about in flower were my favourites, irises.
The gardens are very peaceful, and we enjoyed strolling around, protected from the bustle of the city. There are a couple of places to sit and contemplate as well. I encountered another visitor who was gazing out over the citrus trees from beneath a gazebo. I sat on the next bench to also contemplate the trees and drink in the fragrance from the blossoms. Matsuyama is such a friendly place, we smiled and nodded and exchanged a few words about how beautiful the garden is.
My favourite part of the garden was definitely the rock garden, pool and waterfall on the wooded hillside. I enjoyed hopping over the stepping stones and climbing up through the trees to the tea houses. There is no tea ceremony offer at the gardens, but apparently you can rent the tea houses and have your own little gathering there if you want to. The view from the first tea house across the gardens was lovely, framed by the slender trunks of a pair of trees.
While I was skipping around on the stepping stones at the rock pool garden, I found a solitary fallen maple leaf. It was so small and pretty that I pressed it between a folded page from my note book and brought it home with me. It has kept its colour and is a charming reminder of our visit.
One fun feature of the garden is a ceramic urn buried in the ground to form a subterranean chamber. A bowl in the top of the urn is fed by drips of water from a bamboo pipe. Another bamboo pipe thrusts up out of the ground, and if you put your ear to it you can hear the music of the dripping water echoing in the chamber. It sounds like a koto, and the Japanese name for it (suikinkutsu/水琴窟) translates as water koto cave.
If you are interested in Japanese gardens and are in the Matsuyama area, I’d say that Ninomaru Historical Garden is worth a visit. I’d like to go back at a different time of year to see what other plants are in bloom, or how it looks when the autumn colour season is upon us. It opens at 9 a.m. and, depending on the time of year, closes sometime between 4.30 and 5.30 p.m.
If I had a bigger back garden and a lot more money, I’d transform it into something like the Ninomaru Historical Garden!