Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour, Tokyo

Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour (Self Guided), Tokyo

The Imperial Palace, the residence of the Japanese Emperor, is a vast expanse of green in the heart of Tokyo, surrounded by moats. The palace stands on the site previously occupied by the Edo Castle, in the 17th–19th centuries. While the royal residential compound is closed for visitors (except for two days a year – January 1st and December 23rd), a big part of the palace grounds, including the East Garden of the Edo Castle and the Kitanomaru Park, is open to the public all year round.

The first site welcoming visitors to the palace is the Ote-mon Gate, an impressive structure with a large wooden gate and stone walls, marking the main entrance to the Imperial complex.

Inside, heading north, you will find the picturesque Ninomaru Garden, an oasis of greenery, featuring meticulously manicured lawns and serene ponds. Within the garden, in line with tradition, there is a Japanese teahouse – Suwa no Chaya.

Some way ahead, you will reach Tokagakudo, a unique hexagonal music hall, right behind which stands the Tenshu Stone Tower Base. Although the main keep of the Edo Castle is no longer in place, this stone base serves as a historical reminder of the castle's past grandeur.

Practically a stone's throw away from here, at the northern edge of the palace complex, is another impressive architectural element, the so-called Northern Drawbridge Gate (Kitahanebashimon).

Passing through it, you will enter Kitanomaru Park complete with Chidorigafuchi Moat famous for its stunning cherry blossom views during springtime, and the Tayasu-mon Gate surviving from the time of the Edo Castle. This park also incorporates museums such as the Science Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art.

Along with a glimpse into Japan's imperial history, the Imperial Palace offers a peaceful retreat from the clamor of Tokyo. Anyone even mildly interested in Japanese culture will enjoy coming here, no doubt. So, whenever you're in Tokyo, spare some time for this self-guided walk and explore the exquisite locations once available only to the members of the Japanese royal family. You won't regret it!
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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: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ote-mon Gate
  • Ninomaru Garden
  • Suwa no Chaya Teahouse
  • Tokagakudo
  • Tenshu Stone Tower Base
  • Kitahanebashimon Gate (Northern Drawbridge Gate)
  • Chidorigafuchi Moat
  • Kitanomaru Park
  • Tayasu-mon Gate
Ote-mon Gate

1) Ote-mon Gate

Ote-mon Gate is the main gate of Edo Castle (also known as Chiyoda Castle).

The other gates of Edo Castle that can still be found are Nijūbashi, Sakurada-mon, Sakashita-mon, Kikyō-mon, Hanzō-mon, Inui-mon, Hirakawa-mon and Kitahanebashi-mon. These gates were smaller and less protected than Ote-mon. It is reported that Ote-mon had about 120 guards protecting it while the others ranged between 30 and 70.

Ote-mon Gate is on the site of what is now the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Visitors can walk through Ote-mon Gate to view the ruins of Edo Castle, the Museum of the Imperial Collections and the East Imperial Gardens. A walking path from Ote-mon Gate takes visitors to the Imperial Palace, the State Banquet Hall and the Three Palace Sanctuaries.

Ote-mon Gate is easily accessible by foot from Uchibori dori. Tourists can take a break from the high-rise buildings that surround the grounds to see this historical landmark and all that lies through its open doors.
Ninomaru Garden

2) Ninomaru Garden

Ninomaru Garden is located on the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. This portion of the East Gardens is open to the public for free all days except Mondays, Fridays and New Year's.

This garden was originally constructed in 1632 by artist Kobori Enshu. Sadly, a fire destroyed the garden during the mid-19th century. It was rebuilt in 1968 on a plan drafted by Tokugawa Ieshige, who was shogun from 1745 to 1760.

The garden is representative of the country. It contains trees from every prefecture in Japan for a total of 260 trees in 30 varieties. Ninomaru Garden also includes iris fields, sunflowers and azalea blossoms. A pond flows through the garden, which includes long-finned koi that were bred specifically to this area.

A Suwa-no-chaya tea house built in 1912 is part of this garden. The ruins of Edo Castle's inner citadel, the Tenshudai, is nearby. Visitors are welcome to hike to the top of the Tenshudai to get some of the best views of Ninomaru.
Suwa no Chaya Teahouse

3) Suwa no Chaya Teahouse

The elegant Japanese teahouse Suwa no Chaya is rich in history. Its name is derived from the nearby small shrine dedicated to the Shinto deity Suwa.

Originally, during the Edo period, the teahouse was placed in the Fukiage Garden, the area on the west side of the Nishinomaru where the current Imperial Palace is located.

After the original structure was destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt during the reign of the 11th shogun Tokugawa Ienari, between 1787 and 1837. The Suwa Teahouse underwent another reconstruction in 1901 and then was ultimately rebuilt into its present form, in 1912, by order of Emperor Meiji.

In 1968, the teahouse was relocated to the Ninomaru Garden to enhance the elegance of the newly opened East Gardens when they became accessible to the public.

The grove adjacent to the teahouse was created from 1982 to 1985, following the wish of Emperor Showa to preserve nature that was disappearing. This grove adds to the serene ambiance of the area.

Although the building itself is no longer a functional tea room, it stands as a testament to Meiji-era Japanese architecture.

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.
Tenshu Stone Tower Base

5) Tenshu Stone Tower Base

Tenshu stone tower base is the ruined base of a stone tower that was once a part of the Edo castle in Tokyo.

The Tenshu 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 central towers. The Tenshu stone tower 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 base of the Tenshu stone tower 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 stone tower during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Kitahanebashimon Gate (Northern Drawbridge Gate)

6) Kitahanebashimon Gate (Northern Drawbridge Gate)

During the Edo period, a bridge currently leading from Kitanomaru Park to this gate on the north side of the Tokyo Imperial Palace used to be a drawbridge. Subsequently, it gave the name to the Kitahanebashimon (literally "Northern Drawbridge Gate") which forms part of the enceinte surrounding the inner part of the castle – Honmaru.

The gate is constructed as a Masugata (square gate) and has a double-storied gateway. It consists of two parts, both of which are single-section. The first, outer part of the gate, is dark gray with one canopy. The second, internal one, has three canopies, two of which have a decorative function. Back in the day, the gate's second level was used by defenders of the fortress.

The bridge over the moat is now fixed to the ground, but the metal clamps that used to draw it in ancient times are still attached to the gate's roof.

The adjacent Kitanomaru Park houses several museums, including the Crafts Gallery, the Science Museum, the National Archives, and the Museum of Modern Art. If you're interested in samurai arts, the Nippon Budokan is a good place to stop by.
Chidorigafuchi Moat

7) Chidorigafuchi Moat

The Chidorigafuchi Moat is northwest of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It is famous for its walking path, Chidorigafuchi Ryokudo, which is known for its picturesque views of cherry blossoms. There are approximately 260 cherry trees, which are lit at night and reflected in the water.

The area around the moat, Chidorigafuchi Park, is another popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms. It is not a park in the strictest sense, but a green space with plenty of room to walk and explore. Visitors can take one of the walking paths to walk through the forest or pay respects to unknown Japanese World War II soldiers at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.

The best time to visit is during the months of March and April, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. However, other times of year still offer excellent views, a lovely walk and fewer tourists.

Those who want to get a closer view of the moat can rent a boat to row through the water. However, strolling along the moat as part of the walking tour provides a much broader view with no additional expense.
Kitanomaru Park

8) Kitanomaru Park

Kitanomaru Park, situated to the north of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, boasts several notable attractions, including the Nippon Budokan, an indoor sports and performance venue, as well as the Science Museum and the National Crafts Museum.

Originally, Kitanomaru Park occupied the northernmost section of Edo Castle. It served dual purposes as a medicinal garden and a secure residential area for members of the extended royal family. The park is almost entirely surrounded by deep moats and defensive fortifications that date back to the time of the original castle.

Prior to its transformation into Kitanomaru Park in 1969, this area was known as the Town of Local Governors because it housed many local governors soon after the construction of Edo Castle.

Remarkably, two gated entrances from the era of Edo Castle still stand: the Shimizu gate and, further north, the Tayasu gate. The Tayasu gate held the distinction of being the northernmost gate of Edo Castle. It comprises an outer gate in the Korai style and an inner gatehouse in the Yagura style, with closely stacked stone walls creating a narrow defensive courtyard in between. An inscription on the outer side of the Tayasu gate indicates that it was built in 1685, making it one of the oldest surviving structures from the original castle.
Tayasu-mon Gate

9) Tayasu-mon Gate

Tayasu-mon Gate, located in the northern section of the old Edo Castle, serves as a historical relic of this once grand fortress. Its imposing walls once acted as a barrier between the outside world and Kitanomaru Park, which once served as the residence for the extended royal family. Before Edo Castle's construction, this area was a rural district known as "Tayasudai."

The gate itself follows the Masugata-style architectural design, featuring two gates set at a square angle. One gate provides access to the castle grounds, while the other faces outward. Although the exact date of its initial construction remains uncertain, historical records suggest that the gate may have existed as early as 1607. It underwent reconstruction in 1636, making it the oldest surviving gate within the Kokyogaien National Gardens.

The gate takes its name from a shrine of the same name that existed at the time of its construction. Tayasu-mon Gate stands as a guardian at the entrance to Kitanomaru Garden.

Recognized as an Important Cultural Asset of Japan in 1961, Tayasu-mon Gate is a testament to the legacy of Edo Castle. This area, particularly the Chidorigafuchi Moat, is immensely popular during cherry blossom season, drawing visitors from far and wide to admire the blooming sakura trees.

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