(Image by Ray in Manila via https://www.flickr.com/photos/rayinmanila/17247906786/)
The current Imperial Palace (皇居, Kōkyo) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the centre of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family.
Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country’s capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.
Built over 400 years ago, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is adorned with flowers all year round, with many natural and green spaces, and there are numerous sights to see within. All these are free for the public to view at their own pleasure, making it a great place to just drop by if you are ever in the mood for a visit.
Let us take a look at some of these sights in the Tokyo Imperial Palace!
An Oasis in the City
In the Tokyo Imperial Palace, there are three main areas that you can visit, the East Gardens and Outer Gardens, which you can visit for a stroll without any prior reservations, and the Inner Palace, which requires reservations.
The palace grounds span approximately 230 hectares (568 acres). Just a 15-minute walk away from Tokyo Station, the vast expanse of greenery and natural landscapes makes it an oasis amidst the towering skyscrapers of the big city.
Adorned with a forest of black pine trees and benches along the walking route, the Outer Gardens are an excellent place where you can take breaks while taking for a leisurely stroll.
The Statue of Kusunoki Masashige
(Image by Nelo Hotsuma via https://bit.ly/3aKkrMZ)
In 1900, the statue of Kusunoki Masashige was erected in the south-eastern side of the Outer Palace, and is a popular photo spot, as one of the Three Great Copper Statues of Tokyo. The subject of the statue, Kusunoki Masashige, was a loyal samurai who served the 96th Emperor, Emperor Go-Daigo. He contributed immensely to overthrowing the Kamakura Shogunate and is a beloved figure of the Japanese.
As it is considered impolite for the face of the statue to face the imperial palace directly, one curious trait of the statue is that it faces the opposite direction of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The lively horse that the figure sits upon is another draw of the statue, and regardless of which angle you look at it, the balance of the sculpture looks equally beautiful.
The Nijūbashi Bridge
One of the bridges constructed to reach the Inner Palace from the square in front of the Tokyo Imperial Palace is Nijūbashi Bridge, which was constructed in 1614. Renovated in 1888, and once more in 1964, its shape changed to become what it is now. The beautiful castle which you see behind the bridge is Fushimi-yagura, which was moved over from Kyoto in 1628, and the sight of it paired with Nijūbashi Bridge makes for a lovely view.
The bridge is usually closed to the public, and only open twice a year, on the Emperor’s birthday and on New Year’s Day, when the public is permitted to enter the Inner Palace, where the Emperor greets the masses.
(Image by hans-johnson via https://www.flickr.com/photos/hansjohnson/19633479974/)
Built in 1612, the Sakurada-mon is the largest surviving gate to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Destroyed in a fire during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, it was reconstructed into the steel storehouse structure that stands today. The contrast of the finely shaped stone bottom with the white storehouse above is a beautiful sight and is a popular photo spot for tourists. The double structure of the inner and outer gates allows for a gap in between the two, and it is a great place to see the streets of Tokyo from afar.
From the Outer Gardens, we introduced the Kusunoki Masashige statue, the Nijūbashi Bridge, and the Sakurada-mon gate. Next, let’s check out the East Gardens.
(Image by Daniel Ramirez via https://www.flickr.com/photos/danramarch/29362232081/)
A garden with varied landscapes intended for walks and strolls, it was once the villa of shoguns. At approximately 20 hectares (49 acres), this large garden has plum blossoms in February, azaleas in April and May, irises in June, and maple in Autumn, and you can enjoy the changing scenery all throughout the year.
The ponds in the garden are home to fish, turtles, and other small animals, and you can even see the Hirenaganishiki-goi, a breed of koi fish that is highly prized in Japan. Affectionately referred to as the Ninomaru Thicket for its forest-like atmosphere in the middle of the city, it is a place where you can relax amidst nature.
If you make a reservation beforehand, it is possible to tour the Inner Palace. Besides making reservations on the day itself, reservations can be made over the internet as well, and can be done in a variety of languages including English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean, amongst others.
Tours of the Inner Palace happen twice a day, once in the morning at 10:00 a.m., and once in the afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
Reservations for the following month can be made starting from the 1st of the previous month, but due to the immense popularity of the tour, it can be quite difficult to get a reservation several days before your visit. Instead, it is recommended to make your booking as soon as reservations open, on the 1st of the previous month.
The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is a 15-minute walk from Tokyo Station.
The Outer Gardens have no closing hours. However, the East Gardens are closed on Mondays and Fridays, as well as from Dec 28th – Jan 3rd and on some special occasions. Otherwise, they are open from 9am to 4pm, with hours extended until 4:30pm between March 1st and April 14th, and until 5pm from April 15th – August 31st. Last entry is half an hour before closing. Entry is free, but you will be given a small entry token to return when you leave, so they can keep track of guests before closing.