A Visit to Tokyo's Imperial Palace... East Gardens
Not that long ago, the emperor was the leader of Japan. He ruled the country from his palace in Tokyo until the end of World War II. Japan still has an emperor, but the government is run by the prime minister, similar to other western governments with monarchies. Like the Queen of England, the Emperor is still highly loved by his people; December 23rd, his birthday, is a national holiday.
The eastern grounds are open to the public now. Entrance to the gardens is usually from the eastern side, over the moat and through the gate you see above.
You have to get a ticket to enter, but they are free.
A museum (closed during my visit) seems to be worth checking out. They were closed for the New Years holiday.
There are two parts to the area open to the public. You start in the lower area (ninomaru), and here you'll see guard houses. This is the doshin-bansho guardhouse.
Here is a larger guardhouse, called Hyakunin-bansho.
The last guardhouse you pass is called O-bansho. From here, you weave uphill to the upper area.
Fujimi-yagura. On nice days, you can see Mt. Fuji from here. Or you could - I'm not sure if you can see them in the modern age with skyscrapers and such all around.
The upper area is the honmaru, and these days it's just a large lawn with a couple orchards and some ruins.
This is fujimitamon, a store room/defense house. It's empty and dark inside.
Tenshukaku Donjon base. Edo Castle used to sit on this base, but it was destroyed about 500 years ago and was never rebuilt. Actually, it was the largest castle tower in Japan, but due to citywide fires it survived only about 20 years. The castle still remained the home of the shogun and later emperor until moving to the new Imperial Palace (nearby) in the late 1880s.
A view of the grassy area; admission is free so a lot of couples come here to take a stroll.
The tokugakudo is across from the castle tower base; it has an interesting shape and designs on the outside.
Head back down to the lower gardens by the path near the tokugakudo.
The lower gardens in the ninomaru are more appealing - or they would be if I went in spring or summer! Even so, a stroll through a small grove in winter is pleasant.
A Japanese garden is off in the distance, in place of the old castle buildings that once existed here.
In winter, it's not that beautiful to look at.
A small hill gives a good view of the gardens, though.
Enjoy the view of the pond - I'm not sure if there are cherry trees here but the fall colors are supposed to be nice.
There's a nice rock waterfall in the garden.
Trees without leaves can be nice.
Winters in Japan are very windy, but on my visit it was very calm allowing for nice reflections in the pond.
In the spring, this is probably more photogenic.
A small bamboo grove sits next to the garden.
Are you tired? It took me about an hour to stroll around the gardens. This rest house will help you relax before you head back into the city. There's also a tea house somewhere near the gardens.
Here's a nice old lamp post!
On the way out I saw this lonely swan swimming in the lake. The water is quite nasty near the bridge (you can see along the bottom of the picture).
And here's the map of the east gardens. You can visit the actual imperial palace too, but you can only do that via guided tour and you have to reserve in advance. And you don't go in any buildings, apparently. The gardens are open from 9 AM until 4:30 PM (until 4 PM November through February), every day except for Mondays and Fridays, around New Years, and for some special occasions. This calendar (in Japanese and English) will tell you open and closed days - it's best to check the day before or day of your visit just in case. The Imperial Agency's English website is here, with everything you might want to know about the imperial family, its duties, and visiting the palaces.