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Nightingale floors in temples and castles


Nightingale floors are just one of those incredible inventions of Japanese craftsmen, which you will only truly appreciate when you know their function. If you’ve been to Japan before, you might have noticed that some old wooden buildings have floors that make noise with every step you take. What if I told you this was done on purpose? Read all about these special nightingale floors.

Photo credits: Keith Pomakis

What are nightingale floors?

A nightingale floor or uguisubari as it is also called in Japanese, is a floor which makes a bird-like sound when you walk upon it. The chirping sounds somewhat resemble a nightingale, hence the name (uguisu is a type of nightingale native to Japan). These floors were used in the hallways of some palaces and temples as a security system, since no one could walk across those hallways without making a lot (and I repeat, a lot) of noise.

Nightingale floors design

The design of the nightingale floor is borderline genius. Especially if you add the fact that this was thought of years and years ago. With the nightingale design the flooring is placed on top of a framework of supporting beams. They are secured so they won’t dislodge, but are still loosely enough that there is a little moving when stepped on. As the boards are pressed down when a person walks on them, the flooring nails rub against a jacket or clamp, creating a chirping sound.

Nightingale floors against thieves

The nightingale floors were therefore incredibly efficient against thieves, spies and assasins. They simply had no way of crossing the hallway without making a sound. And ceilings? For the ninja’s reading this, view the video above. There were also special constructions in the ceiling to prevent ninja’s from sneaking up on the lord of the castle. Now let’s see you enter without making a sound…

The difference between friend and foe

A great idea, those nightingale floors with chirping sounds, but if we assume those temples and castles had guards, how would they get around at night? Apparently the lord of the castle or the captain of the guards would assign a special rhythm for their guards. They had to keep it in mind while walking around at night. This way they could easily hear if it was a friend or foe crossing the hallways. Then again, you would probably be up all night…? Hopefully the lord had either earplugs or the top floor to sleep on…

Where to find nightingale floors?

The nightingale floors required quite some craftsmanship and therefore not everyone could afford them. However you can still see and test the floors in large temples and castles. One of the most famous nightingale floors lies in the Kyoto Nijo Castle. There are also nightingale floors in the Higashi Honganji Temple in Kyoto.

So what do you think of the Nightingale floor in Japan (where else?)

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1 Comment

  1. Bella Bella
    May 1, 2017    

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