Tokyo Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is the actual residence of the Japanese Imperial Family. It is located in a large area of central Tokyo parkland and surrounded by stone walls and moats. The former Edo Castle, which was the home of Japan’s ruling shogun, stood on the same site between 1603 and 1867.
History of the Imperial Palace
Once the Tokugawa shogunate was ousted in 1868, the Imperial Court in Kyoto resumed the administration of Japan. The emperor relocated to Tokyo, establishing it as the country’s new capital. Construction of the new Imperial Palace was completed in 1888. Although the palace was bombed during the Second World War, it was reconstructed in exactly the same style afterwards.
Access Information and Guided Tours
As the Imperial Palace is the real home of the Emperor and his family, visitors are not generally permitted to enter the inner gardens or the actual palace buildings. There are exceptions to this rule on December 23, the Emperor’s Birthday, and at the start of the New Year on January 2. At these times, the Imperial family makes a public appearance on the balcony. If you wish to see the inner gardens outside of these times, you must book a guided tour.
Tours of the inner gardens are conducted in Japanese, but English notes and an audio guide are available on request. You must reserve your ticket ahead of time, but this can easily be done online by contacting the Imperial Household Agency.
Things To See On Your Own
The plaza that stands before the palace is known to the Japanese as “Kokyo Gaien”. From this vantage point, you have a clear view of the Nijubashi (or “Double”) Bridge, leading to the inner palace grounds. It is one of the most famous bridges in all of Japan, and is regarded as a symbol of the Palace itself.
The Double Bridge consists of a stone foreground bridge, known as the Meganebashi (or “Eyeglass”) Bridge, and a steel bridge right behind it, which was previously made of wood. Interestingly, the title of “Double Bridge” was given because the wooden bridge had two levels, and not because there were two bridges side by side!
Visitors are also permitted to enter the East Gardens of the Palace (closed on Mondays, Fridays and special occasions.) Here, you can see moats, gates, and guardhouses, all of which belonged to the original Edo Castle. A foundation from one of the castle’s towers also remains.
Getting to the Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is about ten minutes on foot from Tokyo station.
There is an ample range of hotels in this central area. It’s not only easy to explore the city from here, but Tokyo station itself is a terminus for many shinkansen lines, so the area is also in an ideal base if you wish to make longer day trips. However, prices are fairly high, so you will need to venture further afield if you are looking for budget accommodation. Before choosing a place to stay we recommend checking out the page on Tokyo hotels.