Photo/IllutrationNaoko Pogede, left, who is a “City of Kyoto Visitors Host,” imparts historical information to non-Japanese tourists outside the great hall of the Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward on Oct. 30. The great hall was the scene of the return of political power by the Tokugawa Shogunate to the emperor in 1867. (Hideo Sato)

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KYOTO--Tourists can now not only admire the structure of Nijo Castle in this ancient capital, but also get a good grasp of the history surrounding it.

Starting this month, official guided tours are being offered every day in Japanese and English at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The tours are intended to help visitors understand the castle's historical and cultural value more deeply, and visitors are allowed access to some areas normally off limits to the public.

Now, for instance, they can enjoy the special privilege of being taken to the west gate, which is usually off limits. It is believed that Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913), Japan’s last shogun, passed through the gate when he departed the castle.

The tours are being organized jointly by the Nijo Castle Office, which manages the castle premises, and the Kyoto City Tourism Association.

Visitors previously rented audio guides and perused multilingual brochures, but tours by expert guides will now be given in earnest for the first time, officials said.

English-language commentaries are given by “City of Kyoto Visitors Hosts,” or guide-interpreters certified as such by the city government.

A national license for a guide-interpreter is currently required to get paid for taking visitors on sightseeing tours, but Kyoto’s “Visitors Hosts,” under the central government’s “special deregulation zone” system, are allowed to give paid sightseeing tours even without that license.

Rehearsal tours were held Oct. 30 in Japanese and English ahead of the start of the regular tours. Guides were seen giving careful commentaries on objects inside and outside of the castle, including screen paintings by artists of the Kano school and the “nightingale corridor,” which chirps like a bush warbler when it is trodden on.

“I am so fond of Nijo Castle that I found myself talking passionately in spite of myself and ended up running out of time,” said Naoko Pogede, a 45-year-old resident of Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward, who was the English-language guide. “I will go on trying to find a better way to make sure that foreigners who are not well-versed in the history of Japan can enjoy my talk.”

Japanese-language tours begin at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., whereas English-language tours start at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., except on days when the castle is closed (Tuesdays in July, August, December and January, and from Dec. 26 through Jan. 4). A visitor has to pay 1,000 yen ($8.70) to take a Japanese-language tour and 2,000 yen to join an English-language tour, both on top of an admission fee to enter the castle grounds.

Each tour can accommodate 15 people and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the Nijo Castle Office (075-841-0096) for inquiries.