Home to the Emperor, the Imperial Palace and the Gardens of the Imperial Palace are one of the most iconic sites in Japan. Nestled within beautiful parkland, the Imperial Palace feels far removed from the sights and sounds of Tokyo’s nearby thriving centre. The palace is surrounded by large gardens which are divided into the Inner Palace Grounds and the Imperial Palace East Gardens.
In order to explore the Inner Palace Grounds, visitors are required to make an application via the Household Agency, however; the East Gardens are open to the public all year round, making it the perfect place for a little rest and relaxation amongst this thriving city.
History of the Gardens of the Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace grounds and gardens were once the home of Edo Castle; a majestic building that played a significant role in the establishment of Tokyo as we now know it. As the residence of the Tokugawa shogun for over 250 years, Edo Castle was at the forefront of Japanese culture and tradition. As the country was almost completely closed off from the entire world, Japan focused on creating its own customs including the famous Japanese tea ceremony which is still valued until this day.
With a 51 metre stone wall to shield it, Edo Castle was the largest castle in Japan. It was protected by two moats with the outer moat reaching 15 kilometres to the Sumida River. The samurai trained and protected the castle until the Tokugawa shogun was overthrown in 1868 by Emperor Meiji.
As this marked the end of the Edo period, the Emperor renamed the city to Tokyo and launched it as the new capital of Japan. A fire in 1657 and subsequent earthquakes slowly led to the demise of Edo Castle. Since 1881, the Imperial Palace has stood in its place and visitors can still find ruins of the original castle in the gardens.
Visiting the Gardens of the Imperial Palace
The East Garden is the ideal place for leisurely walks on a sunny day. Meander through the beautiful landscaped gardens and climb the remaining foundations of Edo Castle for a broader view of the grounds. This garden is the perfect way to while away the day and take in the tranquil beauty of the plants, trees and sculptures throughout the park.
The Museum of Imperial Collections is located within the park and has an astonishing collection of imperial artefacts and artwork.
The best way to learn more about the gardens, the Imperial Family and the history of Edo Castle is to join a free two hour walking tour. These group tours are arranged by the JNTO information centre and are a great way to meet fellow travellers.
For those who wish to get a little closer to the Imperial Palace, the best time to visit is 23. of December and 2. of January when the Emperor and his family open their gates to the public and make an appearance on the balcony. This is a unique event and a wonderfully cultural way to see the palace in more detail.
During the Cherry blossom season (early April), the gardens become extremely busy. This is a beautiful time to see the gardens in full bloom but do prepare for large crowds and try to visit early in the morning in order to beat peak times.
How to Get to Gardens of the Imperial Palace
The gardens are just a 15 minute walk from Tokyo station.
The closest station to the East Gardens is Otemachi Station (exit 13b) and Takebashi (exit 1a).
The park is open from 9:00-16:30 and closes at 17:00 during the summer (mid April-August). Admission is free and the last entry is 30 minutes before closing.