Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee!

Tokyo Imperial Palace Walking Tour (Self Guided), Tokyo

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 or 2.4 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fukiage Ōmiya Palace
  • Kitahanebashimon Gate
  • Tenshu-dai
  • Tokagakudo
  • East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
  • Tokyo Imperial Palace
  • Nijubashi Bridge
  • Kiyomon (Main) Gate
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.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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