Nightingale floor

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UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. The Nijo Castle was erected in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu as his and his successors’ official residence. The castle actually has 2 palaces with Ninomaru Palace, declared as a Japanese National Treasure, as the most important. It was built of Hinoki or Japanese cypress wood and is renowned for its Momoyama architecture, sliding doors, and squeaking Uguisu-Bari or nightingale floors that warned of intruders.
The sound of a person walking on the "nightingale floor" of Daikaku-ji 大覚寺 in Kyoto.

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Nightingale floors use nails to make a chirping noise under pressure

Nightingale floors, or uguisubari (鴬張り) About this sound listen , were floors designed to make a chirping sound when walked upon. These floors were used in the hallways of some temples and palaces, the most famous example being Nijo Castle, in Kyoto, Japan. Dry boards naturally creak under pressure, but these floors were designed so that the flooring nails rubbed against a jacket or clamp, causing chirping noises. The squeaking floors were used as a security device, assuring that none could sneak through the corridors undetected. [1]

The "nightingale" in the English name refers to the Japanese bush warbler, or uguisu. This is a type of bushtit or nightingale native to Japan.[2]


Made from dried boards. Upside-down V-shaped joints move within the boards when pressure is applied.[3]

Etymology and translation[edit]

Kanji is one of three alphabets used in Japan. Each symbol has a specific meaning and multiple pronunciations. The term "uguisu-bari" utilizes two kanji and a single hiragana character. The first kanji (鴬) is read as uguisu and refers to the Japanese bush-warbler. Another possible kanji is [鶯] which is obsolete and not used despite being the kanji representing the specific bird.[4] The kanji for "floor" is [床] which is read yuka, but does not appear in this word. Instead the derivative kanji [張], read cho, is used in conjunction with り, the hirigana ri. Together 張り is read bari, which is the variant used in this word.[5] The meanings of these kanji individually are as follows:

  • 鴬 - Japanese Nightingale
  • 張 - meaning "to stretch", "to swell", "to pitch", or "to strain".

This reading means it is translated fully to "the sound of a Nightingale from the stretching/swelling/straining [of the floor]" simplified to "a floor which sounds like a Nightingale".


The following locations incorporate nightingale floors:

Popular culture[edit]

  • One of the novels in the Tales of the Otori series is called Across the Nightingale Floor.
  • The nightingale floor features in Hokkaido level of the video game Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, being discussed at one point by guards as protection against ninjas, and used in some floor sections.
  • A nightingale floor features in the novel Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne.
  • A nightingale floor is described in the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming.
  • Nightingale floors are mentioned frequently in the novel Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett.
  • In the 2009 film Ninja Assassin, the protagonist is trained to traverse a nightingale floor without making a sound.
  • A nightingale floor features in the 1997 video game Realms of the Haunting as part of a riddle, where the protagonist has to acquire a magical armlet that allows him to walk across the floor silently and unharmed (the main objective being to avoid waking up the guardian entity of the game level).

Modern Influences and Related Topics[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Mysterious Japan, nightingale Floor: Kyoto Japan
  2. ^ A-Z Animals, "Uguisu" under "Animals".
  3. ^, Nijo Castle under "Kyoto Travel: Nijo Castle".
  4. ^ Japanese Kanji Dictionary, under "Japanese Learning".
  5. ^ Japanese Kanji Dictionary, under "Japanese Learning".


A-Z Animals. "Uguisi" under "Animals". (2008). accessed November 3, 2012.

Bunt, Jonathan and Gillian Hall, ed. Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Henshall, Kenneth G. A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing Company, 1998. “Nijo Castle (Nihojo)” under “Kyoto Travel: Nijo Castle” (June 11, 2012). accessed November 3, 2012. “Japanese Kanji Dictionary” under “Japanese Learning” (March 7, 2012). accessed November 4, 2012. “Nightingale Floor, ‘Uguisu-bari’( 鴬張り )” (2012). accessed September 24, 2012.