Though we usually think of history as being something static and forever unchanging, the constant flow of new information has an interesting effect on how we view the past. A recent discovery at Nijo Castle, the palace fortress which once belonged to the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto, has presented us with a new, confusing mystery.


Kyoto is perhaps the Japanese city most densely packed with history. It was home to the Japanese emperor, imperial family, and aristocrats for centuries and is still considered one of the most essential city’s of traditional Japanese culture. When people think of “old Japan,” they’re usually imaging scenes from Kyoto. And with the stunning natural beauty and masterful human creations on display in and around the ancient capital, it’s easy to understand why.

One of the more impressive human creations in Kyoto is Nijo Castle, the Tokugawa shogun’s Kyoto home, a massive fortress ensconced in a wide moat and massive stone walls. There are beautiful buildings, tea houses, gardens, and small lakes on the grounds, making it one of the most popular destinations for those visiting Kyoto. And one of the best sights you’ll see in Kyoto is of the karamon (Chinese-style gate) framing Ninomaru Palace as you head into the heart of the castle grounds.

Recently it was discovered that the karamon gate, aside from being strikingly beautiful, was harboring the secret pictured below!


Now, many of you may be shrugging your shoulders and wondering what you’re looking at. To properly explain, we need to first very briefly explain an interesting point in Japanese history.

As you probably know, the Warring States period, which lasted from the 15th century to the 17th century, was a time of great warfare and upheaval in Japan, with numerous warlords vying with each other for control of the archipelago. Finally, the country was unified under the rule of the Tokugawa, who took up the title of shogun and ruled in place of the emperor. After around two hundred years of Tokugawa rule, though, imperial rule was restored and Nijo Castle was turned over to the emperor.

▼Ninomaru Palace


After the castle was turned over to the imperial family, the numerous aoimon–hollycock crests–of the Tokugawas were replaced with the kikumon–chrysanthemum crests–of the emperor.

Aoimon (hollycock crest) of the Tokugawa


Kikumon (chrysanthemum crest) of the imperial family


Which brings us back to the recent discovery. The karamon, the Chinese-style gate that serves as the main interior entrance to Ninomaru Palace, was recently under restoration for about a year and half. During the process of restoration, the 12 kikumon embedded in the upper section of the gate were removed and taken out of their holders in order to reapply gold leaf to the crests. It was at that point that it was discovered that the Tokugawa’s aoimon were still in the holders, lying directly underneath the imperial kikumon!

In all likelihood, the crests had been snuggled together over the nearly 150 years since Nijo Castle was turned over to the emperor. But this now leaves us asking why were the crests left this way?


So far, it seems that no one knows. Which means it’s time for a game we like to call: The RocketNews24 Guessing Game! It’s like a regular guessing game, except sexier, smarter, and 100 times more modest.

Guess Number One
This is a Da Vinci Code-like symbol showing how the Tokugawa family is actually still in control and manipulating the imperial family from behind the scenes using advanced alien technology bought from time-traveling Egyptian pharaohs.

Guess Number Two

Guess Number Three
The Emperor directly dictated that the imperial crests be laid over the Tokugawa crests to show his superiority. Possibly the shogun was made to watch and weep as the kikumon were pounded into place over the aoimon.

Guess Number Four
Robot ninjas!

Guess Number Five
The workers were about to break for lunch and they wanted to get the karamon finished so they could move on to another section, so they just slapped the kikumon on as quickly as possible.

Guess Number Six
Robot dinosaur ninjas!

Well, those are our guesses. Maybe you have a better idea! Let us know what you think in the comments section. And if you find yourself in Kyoto sometime soon, stop by Nijo Castle and take a look at the karamon. Even if you can’t figure out the mystery, at least you can enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Sources: Yahoo! Japan News, Naver Matome
Image sources: Wikipedia (Nijojo, Kikumon, Aoimon)