When the shoguns ruled Japan, the seat of their power was Edo castle. Those medieval rulers are long gone, but the building remains and is now known as Imperial Palace. In the modern age it is the residence of the Emperor. It is a place where you can get great “Tokyo” photos. I highly recommend it.
You need to remember one thing first - you won’t be able to get any pictures of the Emperor! The only time I know you can see him is on January 2 (his New Year Greetings). On that day, the gates open and you can get inside to see him on the balcony of Chowaden Hall, and listen to him give a few words. That is the only regular time I know he appears.
Now, let’s get into the photography. The Imperial Palace has everything a Tokyo-loving photographer could want: huge moats; cherry blossoms (in spring); several keeps; enormous walls; bridges, and an impressive city landscape nearby. There are a few buildings inside such as 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, 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, especially in the early morning. The next shot is up from that gate, 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. 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.
If you decide to do the full walk, watch out for joggers as the palace is an extremely popular running spot. Every day there is a constant stream of runners making their way around the walls, and the number gets higher on weekends. Should you decide to join them, you are required to run the palace in a counterclockwise direction. If you want to get inside the palace, you could do a tour which the Imperial Household Agency runs, click here to read about it.
Lastly, make sure to visit the East Gardens, as they are next door! They are very beautiful and have a lot inside to see. To find out more you can read my article 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. Several train and subway stations are within easy walking distance, some closer than others though. Here is a Google map:
The areas outside the Imperial Palace are open twenty-four hours a day. However, during special events 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. If you are limited for time, 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 please 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