In Japan, Gods have always been a kind of flexible concept. Look at what happened after the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being a God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person.
~ Haruki Murakami (acclaimed Japanese novelist)
Edo CastleThe Imperial Palace sits at the former site of Edo Castle. The construction of Edo Castle is one of the greatest engineering feats in history — rivers were diverted and vast areas of artificial land were added to Tokyo. Islands were added to Tokyo bay to defend the castle. One of these islands has become modern Odaiba (a Tokyo neighborhood).
In 1884 Edo Castle burned to the ground — the Imperial Palace was constructed in its place (1888).
The Imperial Palace TodayThe Imperial Palace is the center of Tokyo. This is no accident. Tokyo grew from the Imperial Palace outwards.
The land around the Imperial Palace is now the most expensive in Japan. Tokyo station (near the palace) is Tokyo's intercity rail hub — connecting Tokyo with the rest of Japan.
Imperial Palace East GardensThe Imperial Palace East Gardens (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen ~ 皇居東御苑) are open to the public (except Mondays, Fridays and scheduled closures). In good weather families picnic in the park and tourists wander around with cameras.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are 52 acres of gardens and buildings. The gardens were once the inner most section of Edo Castle (Honmaru and Ninomaru).
Buildings in the east gardens include a music hall (Tokagakudo) and an Edo-era tea house (Suwa no Chaya).
The garden features trees symbolizing each prefecture in Japan (a total of 30 varieties). It's a popular spot for hanami in spring.
Imperial Palace Gaien (Kokyo Gaien)The Imperial Palace Gaien is a large public park at the entrance to the inner palace. Two bridges over the moat can be viewed from the park.
The park is popular with joggers.
If there's an imperial event — dignitaries in Japanese limousines with police escorts may be seen driving through the park. If you're lucky you may even see the Emperor himself.
Chidorigafuchi MoatChidorigafuchi (one of the Imperial Palace's many moats) offers boat rentals. This part of the moat is lined with sakura trees. It's one of the best hanami spots in Tokyo.
The Inner PalaceThe inner Imperial Palace isn't generally open to the public. The exceptions are December 23 (Emperor's Birthday) and January 2 (for New Years). On these days the Imperial Family holds an open house — they make public appearances on a balcony. These events are crowded with fans of the Imperial Family.
It's possible to book a guided tour of the palace. You must apply on the website of the Imperial Household agency (http://www.kunaicho.go.jp). Tours are in Japanese but offer English audio headsets.
Map(click to enlarge)
The grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace are mostly gardens, imperial residences and cultural institutions. The modern buildings of the palace are modest compared to the former glory of Edo Castle.
How To Get ThereThe Imperial Palace East Gardens and Imperial Palace Gaien are both a 10 minute walk from Tokyo station.