Imperial Palace Gardens, Japan

Greasers dancing in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan

Hanzo Moat, with Chidorigafuchi section, across the road from Yasukuni shrine and heading in the direction of the Imperial Palace Gardens. First stop  is  Kitanomaru Park – a part of old Edo Castle grounds – as the huge gateway, moat and walls will attest.

Imperial Palace Gardens (entry free)

Edo Castle Base, Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo, Japan. Photo Marco Verch

Edo Castle Base, Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo, Japan. Photo Marco Verch

The Imperial Palace, Admin buildings and Gardens occupy the site of the Tokugawa shogun’s castle. Built in 1603 this was once the world’s greatest fortress, now reduced to a moat, impressive walls and a few ancient Japanese structures, along with some modern buildings to manage the Imperial Family in year 21st century.

However, the Imperial family living quarters are not easy to see as they are well separated by moats and walls – not to mention guards – from tourists and wandering locals.

The tourist side is generally confined to the Imperial Palace Outer Garden, Imperial Palace East Garden and Kitanomaru Park. All are open to the public free of charge.

If you are standing on the Donjon (Castle Keep) photo below, looking straight ahead, turn 45 degrees right and try to see over or through the line of trees. That’s where the Palace is.

To get as close as possible without joining a free tour (see below) head for the Nijubashi Bridge in the south of the Palace complex. The closest metro/subway is Kasumigaseki station.

Approaching the Gardens via Kitanomaru Park

Kitanomaru Park map, Tokyo, Japan

Tayasumon Gate into Kitanomaru Park from Yasukuni Shrine.

Kitanomaru Park is a pleasant, tranquil park with a good balance of water, trees, grass and buildings, but it does take a while to walk through so if you’re in a hurry take  a subway/metro train to Otemachi Station.

 The Chidorigafuchi Path runs about 700m beside Hanzo Moat (photo at top) at the northwest end of the park, opposite Yasukuni Shrine. Every year around early April, the path is enveloped in cherry blossoms from 300 trees. These are illuminated in season making a spectacular and romantic walk (if you don’t mind sharing the experience with a few hundred thousand other visitors).

On the way a small boat pier offers rowing boats for hire if you’re looking for a little more solitude or a different perspective. 

Greasers dancing in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan

A map of Kitanomaru Park, adjacent to Imperial Palace Gardens. The park contains not only some pretty spectacular walls and moat but also one of Tokyo’s best live music venues, Nippon Budokan, and a Science Museum.

Observant visitors to this page will notice that the map’s original lettering (it was photographed off a Kitanomaru sign) is facing the wrong direction. This is due to another Japanese weirdness, maps. Practically all signpost maps and even paper maps that we saw in Japan are not based on the international protocol of North at the top, South at the bottom. Something else is going on that results in many, even most, maps having North/South pointing in random directions. This is, needless to say both odd and very confusing to visitors to Japan who have always read maps where North is understood to be at the top.

Consequently I re-oriented the map photo to approximately North/South to keep it clear!

The Nippon Budokan is known as a music venue (the Beatles played there!) but was originally designed as a martial arts centre, for training, exhibition and competitions. It now functions in both categories, music and martial arts and perhaps martial music.

Tours of the Imperial Palace (entry free)

Free guided tours of the Imperial Palace are available at 10am and 1.30pm, Tuesday to Saturdays, tho’ not on public holidays, or afternoons from late July to the end of August, or from 28 December to 4 January. Since 2016, same-day registration is available in addition to prior registration for these tours. People under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult. More information

Castle and  Gardens

Palace Gardens seen from Castle base, Tokyo, Japan

Looking out at the core of the Imperial Palace Gardens from the old Edo era castle base that used to be a 5-story Keep before someone knocked over a candle.

In the background is the Maranouchi business district. So how do you keep that amount of grass weed-free, on a budget?

Imperial Palace Gardens Volunteer Gardeners, Tokyo, Japan

Volunteer gardeners, and lots of them, picking Imperial weeds one-by-one. As it happens I was asleep on the grass when they arrived and they kindly weeded around me.

Dieticians always go on about the Japanese diet as the reason they have about the longest life-span in any developed society but I believe they are missing the fact that retired Japanese always find some kind of work – paid, poorly paid, or totally voluntary, but they get exercise and meet people, two important indicators for a long, healthy life.

Imperial Guardhouse, Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo, Japan.

The Imperial Guardhouse, in white and green. The Samurai Guard barracks, the brown wooden building on the right.

Getting there

Imperial Palace, Otemon Gate, Tokyo, Japan.

Imperial Palace, Otemon Gate. Next stop Tokyo station, Otemachi station or a walk to and around Ginza.

The Gardens are a 5-minute walk to Otemachi Station via the Otemon entrance to the East Gardens.  Otemachi Station is on the Chiyoda, Tozai, Marunouchi, Hanzomon and Mita Lines. Alternatively it’s a 15-minute walk to Tokyo Station.