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Tokyo Imperial Palace Tour - my favourite free tour

One of the best free tours I’ve ever done in Tokyo, is the one for the Imperial Palace.  I’m a big fan of Japanese history, so it is a great chance for people like me to get inside this castle and see what is there.  Of course there are other chances to get inside, like the Emperor’s Birthday and New Year’s Greetings, but with those events, there is so little time to have a look around.  This tour gives you just over an hour, with far less people, to see some of the palace grounds. It’s a great experience.

Fujimi Keep with the buildings of the Marunouchi in the background

I did the tour with a friend in early December 2018, and we both enjoyed it very much.  Arriving at a little before 9 am we lined up with about twenty other people who had already arrived.  There were people from a variety of countries, but most seemed to be from Japan of course. After receiving our application forms we were finally let in at 9:30 to go to the reception area to go through a briefing with that day’s tour finally getting underway at 10:10.  While waiting you could visit the gift shop to while away the time.

A tour making its way across the courtyard in front of Chowaden Hall

Fushimi Keep, one of the three remaining defensive towers within the palace grounds

The tour isn’t difficult at all.  It only goes for one hour and fifteen minutes and covers a distance of about two kilometers over mostly flat ground, but there are a few very gentle slopes.  Our guide was quite informative and told us a lot about what we saw as well as a lot of the palace’s history, including its time when it served as home to Japan’s shoguns.  Some of the places that she spoke about included:

In the middle you can see a family crest, a kamon, of a stonemason carved into the rock. You will see many of these in the walls.

The Imperial Household Agency Building

1) Kikyo-mon Gate;

2) Fujimi and Fushimi Keeps;

3) Imperial Household Agency Building;

2) Someikan (Visitors’ House);

3) Chowaden Hall;

4) Megane and Niju bridges, and;

5) Yamashita-dori.

Taking pictures during the tour is no problem and encouraged.  Actually, I did it several years ago and, at that time, if you stopped behind the group to take pictures, one of your guides would tell you to keep moving.  This time it was very different, I lagged a couple of times behind the group, but no one said anything to me, which was very nice.

The Kikyomon (Chinese bellflower Gate) through which you will enter the palace for the tour.

Matsu-no-to (松の塔), the Pinetree Tower.

For me, this tour is about getting inside the palace and seeing what is there, to get a little closer to some of the more famous places like Fushimi and Fujimi keeps, Nijubashi and Meganebashi.  It’s not an exciting tour as such. You’ll never see the Emperor during it, nor any family members. Most of the people you’ll see there are just common employees. On occasion you might see something a little special, like on one tour I got to see the horses and buggies that were out for some special training for an upcoming event.  Other than that it is just a tour that will show you some of what is inside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Horses and carriage during training, passing in front of Chowaden Hall. A very rare sight for most people.

One of the inner moats, filled with lotus, unfortunately this photo was taken in winter

So I really think that is who this tour is for - people who want to see what is inside the Imperial Palace  and or have an interest in Japanese history or Japan’s Imperial Family. It’s a pity the tour doesn’t enter any of the buildings.  But other than that I highly recommend it.

Looking down from Niji bridge over Megane (Eyeglasses) bridge with the Marunouchi in the background.

The old Privy Council Building

One last thing, it isn’t mentioned on the Imperial Household Agency’s website but the tour is in now done in English, and other languages.  You can even download an app that will you give you more information about the palace grounds and places you visit on the tour. To get the complete details of the tour (including booking in advance or same day) click here.

Returning to the Kikyo Gate at the end of the tour