Kyoto Guide: Kyoto Imperial Palace (Gosho)
Kyoto Area Guide: Kyoto Imperial Palace (Gosho)京都御所
Kyoto's Imperial Palace, or Gosho, is the former residence of the Emperor of Japan. An Emperor, however, has not resided in Gosho since 1869. At that point that the imperial family and its retainers decamped to Edo, or Tokyo, following the Meiji Restoration.
Today Gosho, which is located north of downtown, is basically a huge park that happens to have many imperial buildings, the Kyoto Guesthouse (a facility for visiting VIPs), tennis courts, baseball fields, and an Imperial Household office.
The palace grounds are a massive rectangular slab in the heart of the city. The park is roughly 1.3 km (slightly short of a mile) north to south and about half that east to west. It has a great variety of trees, and is very popular for both hanami (cherry viewing) and the fall colors.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace has been at this location since the the 12th century. It had however already been home to the Emperor long before that. The current palace was rebuilt in 1855 after the previous buildings had been destroyed in one of the mumerous fires that razed the buildings over the years.
Gosho Imperial Palace, Kyoto
Within the palace grounds - which are open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year - there are several imperial residences. The Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho) maintains and runs both the buildings and grounds. Visitors who wish to visit any imperial facility - Katsura Rikyu, Shugakuin, etc. - can apply for permission at the office located on the west side of the grounds.
The Retired Emperor's Palace (Sento Gosho) was constructed in 1630 by the Tokugawa shogunate for the retired emperor Go-Mizuno-o and has a lovely stroll garden.
The main gate, which is located on the south side on Marutamachi Street, has a beautiful cypress roof, and is quite impressive. In the past, emperors received dignitaries here. Beyond this gate is a second gate, which leads to the Shishinden, or Hall for State Ceremonies.
South of the Imperial Palace on Teramachi, exiting the southern Kanreimon Gate, is the Shimo Goryo Shrine, which enshrines the guardian deity of the Imperial Palace. The shrine was moved here by Tomotomi Hideyoshi and was originally built to placate the spirits of the Imperial Prince Iyo and his mother, Fujiwara Yoshiko.
In the south west corner of the Palace grounds are the remains of the Kujo Residence, a once large house built for the Kujo family, who were one of the five families of imperial advisors. All that remains are the Shusuitei Tea Ceremony pavilion and the Itsukushima Shrine on an island in a small lake. The residence was used for negotiations between the Tokugawa shogunate and the imperial court over whether to open treaty ports to westerners in the 1860s.
At the other end of the Palace, on the northern end, is Doshisha University. It is one of Japan's premier private universities, and has elegant 19th century brick buildings and an attractive campus.
A wonderful walk would be to wander through the Palace grounds, cross Imadegawa to Doshisha, and then finish in Shokokuji Temple.
On the east side of the Palace just outside the walls are Nashinoki Shrine, known for its pure water and Rozanji Temple, which stages a colorful setsubun festival complete with devil dance in February. There is a 300-year-old muku tree on the grounds here that was once part of the garden of a court official - the Shimizudani residence. The tree is associated with the death of Choshu samurai Kijima Matabei, who died here in 1864 in a sword fight during the Kimmon Incident.
On the west side is the Hamagurigomon Gate, which was attacked during the above mentioned Kimmon Incident, when samurai from Choshu attacked the gate, which was guarded by troops from the Aizu, Kuwana and Satsuma clans. There are supposedly bullet holes still visible but this visitor was unable to discern any. The gate gets its name for the fact that it was always closed like a clam (hamaguri) until opened to allow citizens to escape a fire during the Edo Period. Previous to this, the gate was called Shinzaikemon.
Bicycle path on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Kyoto
Imperial Household Agency
Imperial Household Agency Kyoto Office
3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8611 JAPAN
Subway: From Kyoto Station, take the Kurasuma Line to Marutamachi Station. Exit 1 for the south gate. For the north gate, take the Kurasuma Line to Imadegawa Station.
On Foot: It is also possible to walk from downtown. From City Hall, walk north along Teramachi (the narrow street on the west side of City Hall) for about 15 minutes. Teramachi has many small shops and restaurants. At the end, on the left, is The Screen, a new boutique hotel. In front of you is Marutamachi Street; on the other side is the Imperial Palace.
Hotels near Kyoto Imperial Palace
There are a number of places to stay near the Gosho mostly on the west side of the palace near Marutamachi subway station. These include the Kyoto Garden Palace Hotel and just a bit to the south on the same side of Karasuma the Palace Side Hotel, with a pleasant coffee terrace outfront.
For a full listing of Kyoto Museums & Art Galleries click here
Kemari at the Gosho Imperial Palace, Kyoto