My goodness, but Japan does have a lot of rules. We’ve been given instructions on how to wait for a train: “Stand opposite this notice in threes”, (difficult as there were five of us) and public behaviour: “No smoking while walking along the street. this applies to visitors as well.” Our local playaground has fifteen prohibitions.

Last week we went to visit the Ninomaru Palace in Kyoto. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many instructions.

Now I appreciate that as the building was built in 1603 and has qualified as a UNESCO site, the authorities probably don’t want it to be trampled underfoot by the great unwashed, but still. Entering the building required negotiationg a way around a sign saying: “No photographs allowed; No food allowed; Do not run; No-one under the influence of alcohol is allowed to enter.”

Sign number two was a few steps further on: “No photography. No Sketching.” and as an afterthought “This is the nightingale floor, so called because it makes the sound of a nightingale when walked upon.”* Ten metres later came the cryptic. “No scribbling here.” So we didn’t. At least I don’t think we did.

And so it went on:

“Main reception room. One of 33 rooms in the building. No photo and no sketching.”

On the outer wall: “Keep doors closed. Fire exit. Do not open.”

“First and second grand rooms. No photography, no sketching”

“Visiting feudal lords [mannequins] No photography. Do not touch the barrier. Bodyguards room behind tasselled panels.”

“This was the Shoguns private residence. Please follow the route this way. No pictures.”

“No photography, no sketching”

“This is the fourth grand room. This room contains a carving of peacocks made from a single piece of wood eleven metres long and thirty-five centimetres thick. The room was used to store the shoguns weapons. No photography or sketching.”

“Imperial messenger room. No photography, no sketching.”

You get the idea. Leaving the building was especially carefully regulated: “This exit for groups; This exit for wheelchairs only”; right next to that sign: “This entrance for wheelchairs only” then “Exit for individuals” and “Please move with the group that was organised by the guides of the castle”. They had even added another “No scribbling here” for good measure.

On the way out -while waiting for the attendant to confiscate someone’s’ camera- I spotted an information panel up in the rafters, and learned the castle was built by Ieyasu Tokugawa after finishing the process of taking power from the Emperor and unifying it under the Tokugawa family, that the Tokugawa family ruled Japan until 1867, and that the palace itself was built as a form of social control in architecture, so that the newly subjugated vassals and population would do as they were told.

This explained a lot.

* Apparently it was to stop assassins.

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