Tokyo Travel Guide: The Imperial Palace

No visit to Tokyo is complete without visiting the majestic Imperial Palace. Surrounded by scenic gardens and parks, the Imperial Palace is truly captivating.

The complex covers a sprawling area of 1.3 square miles, although some areas are off-limits to visitors. Aside from the beautiful gardens, the complex is also home to some historical sights, art galleries, museums, and arena.

Fortified Tower, Edo Castle, The Imperial Palace

What To See and Do

The Imperial Palace is built on the site of the original Edo Castle and used to be the residence of the Tokugawa Shogun who reigned in Japan from 1603 until 1867. Although most of the inner sections are inaccessible to visitors, the parks and gardens are open for everyone to explore.

The Walkway around the Imperial Palace

The East Gardens were opened to the public in 1968. It’s set in the innermost circles of the castles Honmaru and Ninomaru. The Honmaru is the main complex where rulers would spend most of their time each day. On the other hand, the Ninomaru is where meetings among rulers would take place.

Otemon (The Entrance to the East Gardens), The Imperial Palace

The Kokyo Gaien National Garden used to be part of the palace grounds and where the Nijubashi Bridge can be found. Originally built on wood, an extra level was eventually added on the bridge, which is why it was given a nickname of “double bridge”. It is in this area where the servant’s quarters are located.

The Imperial Palace is also a great location for Cherry Blossoms spotting in spring, most specifically in the Kitanomaru Koen Park. This gorgeous park is surrounded by a moat and has a truly relaxing vibe. Opened in 1969, this park is also home to the National Museum of Modern Art, Science Museum, and Nippon Budokan, a popular indoor arena.

Chidorigafuchi (North-Western part of the Moat around The Imperial Palace) in Spring

Getting Around

The entire palace complex is composed of three main sections. The first section belongs to the East Gardens, then another section is the Kitanomaru Park and then the third section is the Kokyo National Garden. All three sections are surrounded by an excellent jogging route, which is perfect for those who would prefer to jog instead of merely strolling.

Kokyo National Garden, The Imperial Palace

The main area of the Imperial Palace is not accessible to the public because the Imperial family is still living within the premises. It’s only opened to the public at two specific days of the year – January 2 for the New Year greetings and December 23, which is the birthday of the emperor.

Joining a guided tour is a great way to explore the Imperial Palace. However, the tour will not enter any building. It will take around 1 hour and 30 min and is in the Japanese language although there are English audio headsets for foreign visitors to use.

How to Reach the Imperial Palace

When heading to the East Gardens, get off at the Otemachi Station of the Tokyo Metro. The East Garden is only a short walk away from the station. It’s also possible to reach this area from the Tokyo Station, which is a 10 to 15 min walk.

The Kitanomaru Koen Park can be accessed from the East Gardens. You can also take the metro and get off at the Hanzomon, Takebashi, or Kudanshita stations. If you’re going to the Kokyo National Garden, you can pass through the Sakuradamon Gate that’s close to the Sakuradamon Station.

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