edo_01 The Japanese Imperial family is one of the oldest hereditary monarchies in the world and the current members of the royal family still reside within the Imperial Palace to this day. When you approach the grounds with it's huge moats, fortified stone walls and meticulously well-kept landscaping, there is definitely a great sense of grandness and elegance befitting the royal family. It's unquestionably easy to waste a whole day leisurely walking around the Imperial Palace grounds, but if you want to get in a full day of sight-seeing then the East Gardens (Higashi Gyoen) has a lot more to offer than grand scenery. Plus it's free!
In the East Gardens, you can see the old remnants of where the Edo Castle once stood, old samurai guardhouses, beautifully manicured Japanese gardens and exhibits of Imperial treasures.
Highlights of the East Garden:
The Tenshidai is a part of the original main keep of the Edo Castle which was completed in 1607. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1657. It has not been reconstructed since then and only the stone wall that formed its foundation still remains there to this today.
The Museum of the Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan) houses about 9,500 art pieces! These pieces were owned and inherited by the Imperial family and was donated to the Japanese government. This building is open to the public and free.
Bairin-zaka slope (Plum Grove Slope) has about 50 red and white blossoming ume trees which were planted in 1967.
Access to East Gardens through the Ote-mon Gate:
from Otemachi Station (Exit C13a): 5-minute walk
from subway Chiyoda Line Nijubashi-mae Station (Exit 6): 10-minute walk
from JR Line Tokyo Station (Marunouchi North Exit): 15-minute walk
Closed: Mondays, Fridays (open if the Monday or the Friday is a national holiday, except on the Emperor's Birthday 23 Dec.). *If Monday is a national holiday, it's closed the next day. Closed between Dec.28-Jan.3
The Imperial palace itself is off limits to the public but the Imperial Household Agency does accept visitor applications for guided tours around the Imperial Palace. You can apply through the Internet and requests can be made one month within in advance (though it's a bit of a headache). Be sure to read the agency's tour guidelines before applying. The tour begins at the Visitor's House (Someikan) at Kikyo-mon Gate.
The Imperial Palace is the heart and soul of Tokyo, just at the Emperor is the heart of soul of Japan. It's also a great place to take some memorable vacation photos to make your family and friends back home a bit jealous!