Across The Nightingale Floor

Japanese Bush Warbler
The Japanese Bush Warbler, or Nightingale, by ko_bak on Flickr

Whenever I think of nightingales (which, admittedly, isn’t often), I think of the scene in Disney’s “Cinderella”, where she sings this song called, “Sing, Sweet Nightingale.”

So when Jared told me about this book he’d read years ago, “Across The Nightingale Floor,” I wasn’t really listening, because that song kept running through my head.

“Basically, the castles of Japan had special floors,” he explained.

Sing sweet nightingale, siiiiiing

“They were made in such a way that if anyone was trespassing, the floor would sing like a nightingale.”

“I know a song about that,” I said.

Jared persisted. “There were only one or two ninjas who were stealthy enough to cross the floor silently.”

OK, so it was kind of an interesting plot point, but I didn’t really think much of it until we were in Kyoto. Jared was flipping through the guide book and discovered that Nijo Castle had nightingale floors.

Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto, Japan
Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle, home to the nightingale floors.

My curiosity was piqued, even if that annoying song kept running through my head every time I thought about it.

Jared tells me that Nijo Castle was built by the first shogun of Japan, back in 1601, to remind the Emperor who was really in charge. I’m not going to pretend to remember any more historical details – if it’s history you’re after, you are reading the wrong blog, my friend.

I was instantly impressed, because the castle had a moat. Honestly, if you don’t have a moat, you shouldn’t call yourself a castle.

Nijo Castle Garden
This isn’t the moat, though. It’s the pond from the garden. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the moat, mainly because it was hot and I was starting to get hungry.

There are actually two palaces contained within the castle: Honmaru & Ninomaru. We started at Ninomaru, which had the alleged nightingale floors.

At this point, I was obviously still skeptical. Sure, the floors might squeak, but they would hardly sing like sweet nightingales, would they?

As we removed our shoes in the entrance hall, I began to hear faint musical chimes. It sounded like…birds.

Bird carving in Ninomaru Palace, Japan
Above the entryway to Ninomaru Palace. I assumed they were nightingales but on second glance, maybe they’re more like peacocks.

“That’s it,” Jared said. “The nightingale floor.”

Photographs were prohibited in the palace, so I couldn’t record the sound. I can only tell you that when I gently placed my bare foot on the ancient wooden floor, it sang like a nightingale.

We followed the path around the interior perimeter of the building like wide-eyed little children, squealing every time a random footfall unleashed a twittering melody.

OK, it was just me squealing. More of an amazed gasp, really. I immediately announced that I’d like to have nightingale floors in our house some day, to go with the secret passageways and dual spiral staircases that I already have planned. (Architects, you can contact me via email)

Jared didn’t agree, but he didn’t disagree, either.

Nightingale floor, Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan
In case you are wondering, this is how one should approach a nightingale floor, while carrying one’s fiancée’s handbag and wearing Wile. E. Coyote on one’s shirt.

Thanks to the musical floors, Nijo Castle was one of the unexpected highlights of our trip to Japan.

Nightingales. They do sing sweetly.

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