Tokyo Guide: Imperial Palace
Tokyo Area Guide: Imperial Palace 皇居
The Imperial Palace grounds together with the surrounding Kokyogaien National Gardens form the largest green area in central Tokyo.
The uninterrupted 5km path on the circumference of the Imperial Palace makes its popular with joggers, who run around it daily in their hundreds.
Edo Castle was built in the mid-15th century, and became the citadel of the ruling Shogun in Japan's Edo period (1603-1868). When the Imperial Family was relocated from Kyoto to Tokyo with the modernizing Meiji Restoration, the castle was turned into the Emperor's residence that year and officially named Kyujo (the palace castle) from 1888 to 1948. Since then it has been called "Kokyo," or the Imperial Palace.
Imperial Palace Grounds
The Imperial Palace grounds is made of three main parts: the Imperial Palace itself, the East Garden, and Kokyo Gaien National Park.
The Palace itself consists of the:
Access inside the Imperial Palace grounds is limited to only two days of the year. On January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (the Emperor's birthday), visitors are allowed to enter the inner palace grounds and witness the members of the Imperial Family, who are arrayed and waving behind a bullet-proof window on a balcony.
There are guided tours in Japanese throughout the year. As with any Imperial site, though, tours must be reserved in advance at the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho). You may book up to a day before your intended visit.
East Garden 皇居東御苑
While the East Garden of the Imperial Palace (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen) is part of the Imperial Palace itself, it is also freely accessible from the Otemon Gate, the Hirakawamon Gate, and the Kita-Hanebashimon Gate for five days a week during certain hours. Check out the elderly amateur artists painting the scenery.
East Garden Hours: Closed Monday & Friday, but open if Monday or Friday falls on a national holiday. Closed on Tuesday if Monday was a national holiday. Closed December 28 to January 3. Hours vary by season: March 1 - April 14: 9am-4.30pm (entry up to 4pm), April 15 - August 31: 9am-5pm (entry up to 4.30pm), September 1 - October 31: 9am-4.30pm (entry up to 4pm), November 1 - end of February: 9am-4pm (entry up to 3.30pm). Free entry.
Kokyogaien National Gardens
Kokyogaien National Gardens comprise the areas around the Imperial Palace that are permanently open to the public: the south-eastern Garden Plaza, the northern Kitanaomaru Garden, and the several moats throughout the grounds. Kokyo Gaien National Gardens do not include the East Garden, which has restricted access in the form of daily hours and days off.
The Garden Plaza of Kokyogaien National Gardens occupies the moat-surrounded "island" at the south-east corner of the Imperial Palace grounds, closest to Hibiya Park and the Marunouchi district. The Garden Plaza features approximately 2,000 carefully tended black pines that dot it, and also has the imposing Sakurada-mon Gate that, although reconstructed, dates from 1620.
The Garden Plaza is not much of a sightseeing spot in its own right, but makes for a grandiose and atmospheric approach to the Imperial Palace.
Nijubashi is the most famous bridge of the many that span the moats of the Imperial Palace. This graceful, stone arched bridge is named after the double-storied wooden bridge it replaced. From the "Nijubashimae" intersection of Uchibori-dori Avenue that runs through the Garden Plaza, approach the Palace walls and on your left will be the double-arched stone bridge, nicknamed "Glasses Bridge" (Meganebashi), leading to the Main Gate of the Imperial Palace (Kokyo Seimon - used on rare ceremonial occasions). Nijubashi is the next bridge along and is one of the Imperial Palace's must-see spots.
Wadakura Fountain Park, just north of the Garden Plaza, is particularly beautiful at night when its dancing jets of water are lit up. Wadakura Fountain Park was created to celebrate the 1961 wedding of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, with additions in 1995 for the marriage of Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako. Wadakura Fountain Park is about 450m north of the Nijubashi-mae Intersection and just across from Otemachi Station. Overlooking the fountains is the 5-star Palace Hotel Tokyo, supreme among Tokyo accommodations for both its location and its luxury.
Kitanaomaru Park 北の丸公園
Kitanomaru Park is directly north of the Imperial Palace, closest to Yasukuni Shrine. Kitanomaru Park offers more than just scenery and things of old. There is the National Museum Of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT) and its nearby Craft Gallery, the Science Museum Tokyo (not to be confused with the National Museum of Nature and Science Tokyo in Ueno Park), and the Nippon Budokan sports and performance hall.
Imperial Palace Moats
The twelve moats of the Imperial Palace occupy 37 hectares of the total 115 hectares of Kokyogaien National Gardens and form the only part of the Gardens that is not accessible to the general public. The moats are there to be enjoyed from the edges for their scenic beauty and the wildlife (including swans) that inhabit them. The Chidori-ga-fuchi Moat, on the western edge of Kitanomaru Park, is one of the most well-known moats for the beautiful cherry blossom that adorns its banks for a couple of weeks every spring.
For a full listing of Tokyo Museums & Art Galleries click here