Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour, Tokyo

Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour (Self Guided), Tokyo

The Imperial Palace – residence of the Japanese Emperor – is a vast expanse of green in the very heart of Tokyo, surrounded by moats. It 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 ground, such as the East Garden of the Edo Castle and the Kitanomaru Park, is open to the general public all year round.

If you wish to explore these exquisite locations, previously available only to the members of the Japanese royal family, at your own pace and in your good time, take this self-guided walking tour.
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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: 10
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)
  • National Crafts Museum
  • 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 Suwa no Chaya (諏訪の茶屋) is a teahouse that was located in the Fukiage Garden during the Edo period. It was moved to its present location during the construction of the East Garden.

The building is an elegant Japanese architecture. A grove nearby was created from 1982 to 1985 at the request of the Emperor Showa.

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)

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 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.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
National Crafts Museum

7) National Crafts Museum

The National Crafts Museum was opened in 1977 with a goal to display the living treasures of the country which are its traditional crafts.

The collection at the National Crafts Museum features objects from the Meiji era to the present day. It has textiles, ceramics, glass, dolls, lacquer, wood, bamboo, metalwork, industrial and graphic design. There is a section on the growth and diversification of Japanese crafts in the post World War II era. The collection portrays crafts made using traditional techniques in new contemporary creative designs. It also hosts themed exhibitions like the History of Japanese Modern Crafts Exhibition and large scale shows once or twice in a year. Crafts from other parts of the world dating from the 19th century are also featured.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun: 10:00 AM-5:00 PM (open until 8:00 PM on Fridays).
Chidorigafuchi Moat

8) 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

9) Kitanomaru Park

Kitanomaru Park (北の丸公園, Kitanomaru Kōen), located North of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, is the location of the Nippon Budokan, an indoor sports and performance venue, the Science Museum and the National Crafts Museum.

Kitanomaru Park was originally the location of the northernmost section of Edo Castle. It was used as both a medicinal garden and a secure residential compound for members of the extended royal family. The park is almost encircled by deep moats and defensive fortifications from the original castle.

Prior to 1969, when Kitanomaru Park was opened, this district had been called Town of Local Governors because many local governors lived in the place soon after the construction of Edo Castle.

Two gated entrances survive from time of Edo Castle, the Shimizu gate and further north the Tayasu gate. The Tayasu gate was the northernmost gate of Edo Castle and consists of both a Korai gate style outer gate and a Yagura gate style fortified inner gatehouse with highly stacked stone walls forming a narrow defensive courtyard between the two. An inscription on the outer side of the Tayasu gate states the gate was constructed in 1685, making it one of the oldest surviving structures of the original castle.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Tayasu-mon Gate

10) Tayasu-mon Gate

Tayasu-mon Gate was once a part of the great Edo castle. Its massive walls separate the outside world and the Kitanomaru Park which used to be the residence of the extended royal family. This is a typical Masugata-mon style of gate. It is not known exactly when this gate was built, however the present structure was reconstructed in 1636.

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