Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour, Tokyo (Self Guided)

The Imperial Palace, residence of the Japanese Emperor was once the site of the Edo Castle in the 17th – 19th Century. Located in the heart of the city, it is a vast expanse of green and is surrounded by moats. The palace is open only for two days a year - January 1st and December 23rd. However, walking tours of the inner palace grounds is conducted on weekdays except on special occasions. Prior approval from the Imperial Household Agency is required to join these walking tours.
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Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour
Guide Location: Japan » Tokyo (See other walking tours in Tokyo)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 km
Author: ann
Fukiage Ōmiya Palace

1) Fukiage Ōmiya Palace

This palace was previously known as the Fukiage Palace. It was originally the residence Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun. It was renamed into Fukiage Ōmiya Palace in 1989 after the death of Emperor Showa. The palace is surrounded by the beautiful Fukiage Gardens that carries its name since the Edo period. The place is usually used as a residential area for the Imperial family.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Kitahanebashimon Gate

2) Kitahanebashimon Gate (must see)

Connecting the northern end of Tokyo Imperial Palace with the vibrant life outside, Kitahanebashimon (literally "Northern Drawbridge Gate") is the gate to the Honmaru enceinte. The gate is constructed as a masu-gate (square gate) and has watari-yagura-mon (double storied gateway) in a left angle within. Right next to the gate is a bridge that used to be a drawbridge during the Edo period. The metal clasps used to draw the bridge are still attached to the roof of the gate.

Exiting the gate, once you cross the elevated path, you end up at Kitanomaru Park. This park houses several different museums, including the Crafts Gallery, Science Museum, National Archives, and the Museum of Modern Art. If you're interested in the samurai arts, the Nippon Budokan is a good place to stop by, probably on a weekend; if you're lucky it will be packed.
Sight description based on wikipedia

3) Tenshu-dai

Tenshudai is the ruined base of a stone tower that was once a part of the Edo castle in Tokyo. It is located in the heart of the Central Park of the city.

The Tenshu Donjon or stone tower was constructed by the 2nd Tokugawa Shogun Hidetada who ruled Tokyo in 1607. It was improved in 1622 and completed by his successor Tokugawa Lemitsu in 1638. It formed part of the Edo Castle and was its central tower. Most castles in Japan during the shogun era had Tenshus or central towers. The Tenshu Donjon was 58 meters tall with five floors above the ground and a sixth underground floor. In its heyday, it was an impressive structure that reflected the strength and power of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was burnt down by the Meireki fire that destroyed nearly 70 percent of the city of Edo now called Tokyo in 1657 and was never rebuilt.

Today, only the Tenshudai or the base of the Tenshu Donjon survives. It has become a major tourist attraction. The former Edo castle is the residence of the present Emperor of Japan, but the stone structure is accessible to visitors. One can climb to the top of the stone base to get a picture of the grandeur of the Tenshu Donjon during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

4) Tokagakudo

The Tokagakudo is an octagonal concert hall located within the imperial gardens of Tokyo. In Japanese, “Tokagakudo” means “peach blossom” and the structure is designed to resemble a flower.

The Tokagakudo was built as a concert hall in 1966 in honor of Empress Kojun. She was the consort of Emperor Hirohito, the longest serving Japanese emperor who became the symbol of modern Japan after World War II. She was a well known patron and lover of classical music. The hall was opened to commemorate the 60th birthday of the empress who died in the year 2000.

The Tokagakudo has eight walls and a circular roof in the shape of clematis petals. Each wall is covered with a mosaic portraying large flying birds and patterns of the sun, moon and stars, depicting different seasons of the year. The mosaic consists of fragments of Arita and Shigaraki pottery. The roof of the main entrance is adorned by two dolls that are the Japanese version of Gargoyles. Many well known Japanese and international musicians and orchestras have performed at the venue in the presence of the imperial family. The Tokagakudo is a modern structure amidst the traditional historic buildings of the East Gardens of the Edo Castle.
East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

5) East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (must see)

The East Gardens of the Tokyo Imperial Palace is a beautiful green space in the midst of the bustling city. The public can enter the garden through any of the three historic gates, the Ōte-mon, the Hirakawa-mon or the Kitahanebashi-mon.

The East Gardens was laid out during the Meiji era when the Emperor seized control of the city from the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was opened for public viewing in 1968 and covers an area of nearly 52 acres, featuring a traditional Japanese garden, a tea ceremony room, a guard house, concert hall and a small forest.

During spring, the garden is adorned with blooming Sakura or cherry blossom trees. The garden has nearly 30 species of cherry trees. Other notable plants are bamboo, peonies, a grove of plum trees and willow trees. The garden has over one thousand species of native Japanese plants. There is also a large green lawn, called the Oshibahu, that was once used for imperial ceremonies. Structures within the gardens include two guardhouses that once guarded the gates and the remains of a stone tower, called the Tenshu Dai. It is open to the public daily except on Mondays and Fridays, and a map of the garden is available at the guardhouse near the Ōte-mon Gate to help visitors find their way.

Why You Should Visit:
Nice spot for a picnic with large grassy areas.
If you're into a little exercise, it's a great place for that too.
Plenty of cultural significance otherwise, with some remnants dating back to 1600s!
Entry is free and easy. Some free guided tours are offered but you must come early.

Try to avoid the hottest hours of a hot day, as it can get very hot in the more open area.
For the boat rides you should go to the Chiyoda, the opposite part of the castle.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Thu, Sat-Sun: 9am-4:30pm; closed on Mondays & Fridays
Sight description based on wikipedia
Tokyo Imperial Palace

6) Tokyo Imperial Palace (must see)

The Tokyo Imperial Palace (Kyūden) is the residence of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. It is located in the center of the city surrounded by high walls and a large moat.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace stands on the site of the former Edo Castle that was the residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Tokyo during the Edo era. After the defeat of the shoguns in 1868, the imperial residence shifted from Kyoto to Tokyo and a new palace was constructed in 1888. The Palace was completely destroyed during the World War II air attacks and rebuilt based on the original design in 1968. It is accessible through a double bridge. Of the former Edo castle, only moats, defensive walls, gatehouses and turrets remain.

The Kokyo Palace and inner gardens are not open to the public with the exception of two days annually. The public is allowed to greet the emperor and empress on January the 2nd for the New Year and the Emperor on his birthday which falls on December 23rd. On these days, the imperial family makes several appearances on the balcony of the palace. Visitors can reserve a tour over the internet with the imperial household agency to view the inner garden and the Kokyo.

Why You Should Visit:
Large, beautiful, quiet and green place worth a leisurely stroll, with an excellent view of Tokyo's high-rise skyline to boot.
The free tours are recommended for people who are more serious or interested in history and/or photography.

Tours are conducted at 10am and 1:30pm each day for around 1h 15min duration.
Note that the tours are generally not conducted on Sundays & Mondays.
Be prepared to have a long, very long, walk through the area and avoid sunny afternoons.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Nijubashi Bridge

7) Nijubashi Bridge (must see)

The Nijubashi Bridge connects the Imperial Palace front Plaza called the Kokyo Gaien and the Imperial Place over a deep moat. It was once a wooden bridge with two levels which is why it was named Nijubashi or "double-bridge".

The wooden bridge was replaced with a steel bridge in 1964. It is best viewed from the large plaza called the Kokyo Gaien. Two bridges make up the entrance of the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called the Meganebashi or the Eyeglass Bridge and the other is the two-level steel Nijubashi Bridge.

The Nijubashi Bridge is not always opened to the public. It is used only when state guests visit the Imperial Palace or when Royal ceremonies are held. On two days in a year, the bridge is open for all members of the public and for visitors. On the 2nd of January when the people of Japan are allowed to visit the palace and greet the imperial family for the New Year and on the 23rd of December to greet the emperor on his birthday, the Nijubashi Bridge is open to all. Today, it is one of the most photographed structures in Japan.

Why You Should Visit:
Perhaps the most photographed bridge in Tokyo, if not in all of Japan; perfect photo op and a fabulous view.

Try to be there around sunset, it's just beautiful to walk by.
Kiyomon (Main) Gate

8) Kiyomon (Main) Gate (must see)

The Main Gate is the place from which the guided walking tour of the Imperial Palace starts. Also known as Kikyomon gate, the gate itself is an architectural splendor and has been built in the same style as the Imperial Palace.

This is the entrance to use if you want to tour the palace grounds, provided you've made a reservation in advance.
If you don't go on the tour you can only view from outside, which is not nearly as good.

Walking Tours in Tokyo, Japan

Create Your Own Walk in Tokyo

Create Your Own Walk in Tokyo

Creating your own self-guided walk in Tokyo is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Kitanomaru Park Walking Tour

Kitanomaru Park Walking Tour

The Chiyoda district is steeped in history and is a reflection of the city’s culture, both past and present. Besides several prominent historical landmarks like the Imperial Palace, the place boasts of some of the best museums in the region. The Kitanomaru Park, part of the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace, houses the National Museum of Modern Art, Science Museum and the Nippon Bodokan. The...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 km
Shibuya Walking Tour

Shibuya Walking Tour

This place is a melting ground for the fashion conscious and trendy teenagers and is lined with trendy shops, boutiques and some historic sites. On Sundays, crowds of young people converge here dressed up in myriad colors and styles to socialize and have fun. Other significant sites here are the Meiji shrine and the Yoyogi Park. Take time off to experience the fun and frolic that marks the place.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 km
Best of Asakusa Walking Tour

Best of Asakusa Walking Tour

The Asakusa district in Tokyo is famous for the Senso-ji temple and is one of the few places in Tokyo that retains the old world charm. The temple markets, narrow streets, traditional shops and restaurants provide a glimpse of old Tokyo. It is also known as Tokyo's oldest geisha district. Take a walking tour and live the carnival atmosphere that pervades this place.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 km
Yasukuni Shrine Walking Tour

Yasukuni Shrine Walking Tour

Founded in 1869, this shinto shrine became known as "Yasukuni" only in 1879. Built to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country and emperor, the Shrine is located in Chiyoda District and covers the area of over 6 hectares. Within the Shrine there are numerous cultural and historic sites such as Japanese War Museum. Take this tour to learn more about Yasukuni.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 km
Religious Sites Walking Tour in Takanawa

Religious Sites Walking Tour in Takanawa

Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines dot Japan’s landscape. These temples and shrines are an architectural splendor and many of these can be found in every part of Tokyo. This guide will take you to the smaller Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the Takanawa neighborhood of Tokyo. Most often overlooked by tourists, these temples and shrines are a beauty and should not be missed.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 km
Ueno Park Walking Tour

Ueno Park Walking Tour

The Ueno Park, next to the Ueno station is a public park that offers visitors a large number of attractions. The area is home to many of the famous attractions in Tokyo. They are the Ueno Zoo, major museums like the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art. This walking tour would provide you an insight into old Tokyo. The museums here preserve the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Tokyo for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Tokyo has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money getting around Tokyo and visiting the city's multiple highlights, you may want to resort to the Greater Tokyo Pass.

Among other conveniences, this pass allows bearer to explore Tokyo's metropolitan area with unlimited rides on railways of 12 private railway companies in Kanto area, as well as buses of 51 companies in metropolitan Tokyo and surrounding 3 prefectures for 3 days!

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Tokyo hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Toshi Center Hotel, The Capitol Hotel Tokyu.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Tokyo, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Tokyo typically costs somewhere between US$40+ and US$120 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of Tokyo from the open top of a bus listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route. The ticket is valid for one day (24 hrs).

- Attend a traditional tea ceremony, an integral part of Japanese culture, in Tokyo to perceive its sophisticated philosophy and to soak up the atmosphere and cultural highlights of this fascinating city with the help of a local guide on a jam-packed day of sightseeing in Japanese capital.

- Another good chance to absorb Tokyo's atmosphere within a shortest possible time is a 4-hour morning sightseeing tour embracing all of the city’s top highlights including major historic sights, shopping districts and otherwise colorful areas. Ideal for those on a first-time or short visit to Tokyo.

- Forget skyscrapers and transgress into the old-time, slow-paced Tokyo on a 3.5-hour guided walk through Yanaka, the historic part of the city dating back to the the Edo period, replete with charming temples and cherry blossom trees.

- Pedal your way around Tokyo on a 3-hour E-assist bike tour visiting the city's most spectacular sights and some hidden spots that you otherwise wouldn't have found or reached by public transport, stopping from time to time at some of the sights for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions en route from a knowledgeable group leader.

- No visit to Tokyo is complete without savoring authentic Japanese cuisine. Embark on a night food tour of Tokyo to appreciate the city’s nighttime culinary scene by getting a generous dollop of delectable local treats from selected pubs and restaurants under the watchful guidance of a local expert.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in Tokyo, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Mt Fuji and Lake Ashi, Nikko National Park, Kamakura and Tokyo Bay, or Hakone. For as little as circa US$100 to US$300 per person you will get a chance to discover highlights of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and Japan’s other most famous locations, explore the breathtaking countryside outside Tokyo including one of the best sightseeing spots in the country with lots of hot springs, visit the centuries-old center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship, see the Great Buddha statue, tour the ancient temples and scenic shrines, and more. For any of these tours you will be picked up either straight from your hotel or a designated place in Tokyo, and transported either by a comfortable air-conditioned coach, bullet train (Shinkansen), boat, or a private vehicle (whichever is applicable) to the destination of your choice and back again.