When the shoguns ruled Japan, the seat of their power was Edo castle. They are now long gone, but the castle remains and is now known as the Imperial palace, as it is the home of Japan’s Emperor. If you ever visit Tokyo, you can go there too to get some great photos. Both I and countless other photographers highly recommend it. Just don’t count on getting a picture of the Emperor while you are there though!
If you are after a picture of the Emperor, that is very difficult! The only times I know you can see him there, are on December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday) and January 2 (his New Year Greetings). On those dates one of the gates will be opened and you can get inside, see him on the balcony of Chowaden Hall and listen to him give a few words. There is also a tour there that you can do on most weekdays (article coming soon).
So, if you can’t get inside, what can you do there? Take photos of course! The Imperial Palace has everything a Tokyo-loving photographer could want: huge moats, cherry blossoms (in spring), several keeps, enormous walls, moats, bridges and an impressive city landscape nearby. There are also a few buildings that you can see inside, one of which is the Imperial Household Agency, but other than that not many. I think that is pretty good though, isn’t it? Also, the contrast between the castle and nearby modern, urban city of the Marunouchi area is very impressive.
If I had to pick my favourite places for photographs there, I would pick three. The first is just outside the Sakurada gate on that bridge looking over the moat up the hill towards the Diet building which is very nice. For the next shot walk up the hill a little towards the Diet building but not too far. Look back and you can get a shot of the moat, the gate and Marunouchi skyscrapers beyond. My last is at Main gate which is close to the Sakurada gate. There, you can usually get pictures of the two Imperial guards on duty, Meganebashi ((Eye) Glasses bridge) in foreground with Niju bridge and Fushimi keep in the background. As a matter of fact, this is the place where the majority of tourists go so it can be hard getting nice pictures sometimes.
The one thing that some people won't like about the palace is that most of the interesting places are on the Tokyo station side. If you intend to do a full circuit, just be prepared that some areas have nothing of interest there. And the other thing that isn't so good is that in the warmer months, the moat will be filled with algae, making it all green, which doesn't look so nice.
If you decide to do the full walk, be on the watch out for joggers, as the palace is an extremely popular running spot. Every day there is a constant stream of joggers making there way around the walls, and the numbers get higher on weekends. Please be aware that if you decide to join them, you are required to run the palace in a counterclockwise direction.
Lastly, make sure you visit the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace as they are next door! The gardens there are very beautiful and has a lot of other stuff inside to see as well. To find out more you can read my article about them here.
The Imperial Household Agency is responsible for the palace and you can see its website here.
How to get to the Imperial Palace?
The Imperial Palace is very easy to get to. There are several train and subway stations near it within easy walking distance, some closer than others though. Here is a Google map:
The outside areas of the Imperial Palace are open twenty four hours a day. However, when there are special events at the palace some of the surrounding roads and areas will be blocked off.
How long does it take to walk around the Imperial Palace?
At a leisurely walking pace it will take you slightly more than one hour to walk around the palace, provided you don't stop for pictures. So, if you are limited for time however, it would be best to stay on the Marunouchi side as most of the main gates and visible buildings mentioned in this article are there. And also remember you might want to take a detour into the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace as they are really worth seeing.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Gotokuji - see the temple that is home to Japan's maneki neko (beckoning cats)
History Garage - located in Odaiba is a great car museum
Inokashira park - one of the Tokyo's most famous parks
Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum - learn more about how the Japanese used to live
Omiya Hachiman - a local temple in Tokyo