History of Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is home to the Emperor of Japan. It is built on the site of Edo Castle, home to the Shogun before 1868. The area is surrounded by thick walls, wide moats, and meticulously kept gardens.
The Imperial Palace is a huge contrast to the steel and glass modern office buildings found in downtown Tokyo.
The palace grounds is divided into four main parts. Three of which are open to visitors—the Outer Garden, East Garden, and Kitanomaru Park. The fourth inner palace area can only be visited through special tours, which depart at the Kukyi-mon gate.
The Imperial Palace is a place for runners, cyclists, and for strolling. It also offers tours, where one can see the Imperial art collection for free.
Japanese gardens and woodlands surrounded by skyscrapers
Each garden in the Imperial Garden has its own character. The Outer Garden is considered the most urban, offering views of the towering skyscrapers of busy Marunouchi that contrast with the Nijubashi bridge built in the Meiji era (1868-1912) and black pines.
The East Gardens houses Ninomaru, an Edo period (1603-1867) garden. It is a secret park filled with blooming flowers and surrounded by ancient walls. It also where the Suwano tea house is located. A few guardhouses from the Edo period can also be found here and there.
The Museum of Imperial Collections is also located in the East Garden. It is a free museum that features rare works of art and historical artifacts from the Imperial collection.
Kitanomaru Park houses the Nippon Budokan hall, a large event space that could hold anything from judo to rock and roll, as well as the Science Museum, and the National Museum of Modern Art.
Sights beyond the palace
Beyond the palace walls lies cultural sights waiting to be explored.
Near the Tokyo Station are the Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo International Forum (which also houses the Mitsuo Aida Museum), and the elegant shops of Marunouchi.
In the northwest corner of the palace’s moats is Chidori-ga-fuchi, where you can rent a boat and view the castle walls from a duck’s-eye view. A short walk from the Kitanomaru Park are the moving exhibits at the Showakan and huge torii gates of Yasukuni Shrine.
To the west, you can find the National Diet Building and the National Theater, which hosts traditional kabuki, noh, and other performances. Next to theater is the Traditional Performing Arts Information Centre, full of costumes, props and archive footage.
The Imperial Palace conducts tours twice a day. One in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Tickets for the morning tour are distributed at 9 in the morning, while tickets for the afternoon tour are distributed at 12:30 in the afternoon.
The morning tour usually ends at around 11:15 in the morning and afternoon tours usually end at around 2:45 in the afternoon.
No tours are being conducted from the 21st of July to the 31st of August.
How to get there
The Imperial Palace is extensive, so it can be reached from several different gates and metro stations.
One of the most popular options is through the Ote-mon gate because it is connected directly to the East Garden. To reach the gate, either take a five-minute walk from the Otemachi subway station or a 15-minute walk from the Tokyo Station.
Another way is by taking a five-minute walk from Takebashi Station on the Tozai metro line. This will lead to the Hirakawa-mon and Kita-hanebashi-mon gates which are located closely to Kitanomaru Park.