Tokyo Imperial Palace: All You Need to Know

Imperial Palace Places to visit in Tokyo

As a popular and historic tourist attraction in Tokyo, Imperial Palace is visited by numerous visitors all year round. The current Imperial Palace is built on the former Edo Castle grounds and is surrounded by a moat and large stone walls. It contains several buildings, including some residences for the Imperial Family. It will be impossible to visit these parts of the park-like area, but there are many ways to enjoy the palace buildings and parts of the grounds. 

For locals the loop around the Imperial Palace is a popular running spot, where they can enjoy a 5km running course around the scenic palace and its natural surroundings. Despite its prominent location, a short walk from Tokyo Station, information about the palace is often limited compared to other famous tourist spots. What is the Tokyo Imperial Palace? How old is it, and is it really worth a visit? Here is all that you need to know about Tokyo Imperial Palace before your visit!  

1. Where is the Tokyo Imperial Palace?

Tokyo Imperial Palace is located in the very center of Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Since 1869, the historical site in Tokyo has been officially used as a residence of Japan’s Imperial family. About a 10min walk from JR Tokyo Station takes you to this historic spot located right at the heart of the metropolitan city. The palace grounds boast beautiful natural spots as well as historic structures which can be found around the massive area including beautiful parks and gardens.

Imperial Palace

2. Brief history of Tokyo Imperial Palace

To understand the history of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, we need to travel back to the Edo period which was started by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. Until the end of the Edo period, Japan’s Imperial family resided in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The Tokugawa family however took up residence in Edo and Edo became a new political and economic center of Japan. The Tokugawa started to lose its influence and power at the second of the 18th century and in 1868, after the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled the entire country for over 260 years, the Tokugawa Shogunate was finally overthrown. This is known as the Meiji Revolution. After the Meiji Revolution, Japan’s Imperial family officially moved into the Imperial Palace in 1869.

The current site of the Imperial Palace was formerly known as the site of the Edo castle, the main castle of Tokugawa Shogunate. The original building of the Imperial palace was unfortunately destroyed during World War II, but completely restored to the similar style close to the original one afterwards.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

3. Can you visit the Imperial Palace?

Although inside the palace is not open to the public, parts of the Tokyo Imperial Palace are accessible, something that not many people know. A visit to the Imperial Palace is one of the best things to do in Tokyo! There are free guided tours available that will enable you to explore the inner grounds, but no buildings are visited. 

Guided Tours Imperial Palace
Daily tours at 10am and 1.30pm (in English & Japanese)
Free of charge, but registration required from here

Imperial Palace East Gardens

Furthermore, you can visit the adjacent Imperial Palace East Gardens, which have been open to the public since 1968. In the gardens you can see next to a beautiful selection of seasonal flowers, also some of the remnants of Edo castle, some guard houses and other historical buildings. The Imperial East Gardens are closed on Monday and Friday. 

As mentioned above, the inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only twice a year, on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and February 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), you can enter the inner palace grounds and, when you’re lucky, see some members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.

How to make the most of your time at Tokyo Imperial Palace

  • Explore the lovely gardens featuring lush greenery and scenic spots 
  • Be an early bird and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere while taking a morning walk around the palace with less crowds

4. What to see at Tokyo Imperial Palace

1. The Imperial East Gardens

This beautiful Japanese style garden, which can be enjoyed all year round for free, is among the best Japanese gardens in Tokyo. The gardens are home to a variety of historic structures including giant stone walls, remains of the castle tower and turrets dating back to the Edo period. It is also a perfect spot for admiring seasonal flowers and plants including Japanese iris in June and autumn colors in fall!

2. Kitanomaru Park

Lovely public park which covers the northern part of the spacious ground of Tokyo Imperial Palace. Since its opening in 1969, many people visit the park for bird watching and taking a relaxing stroll in nature. It is also home to a number of popular tourist attractions such as The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and National Crafts Museum!  

3. Nijubashi Bridge

Nijubashi Bridge is an iconic stone bridge built over the inner moat of the Imperial palace. It is used as a main entrance of the inner palace grounds which is exclusively opened to the public twice a year on January 2nd and February 23rd.   

4. Chidorigafuchi Park

On the north west side of Imperial Palace, the Chidorigafuchi Park is a long, narrow park following a palace moat. The park is one of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo, with a footpath and vibrant spring cherry blossom views that are illuminated at night! At this part of the moat, boat rental is available to watch the cherry trees in full bloom from the water!

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Imperial Palace

Tokyo is a great city full of exciting spots and bustling experiences. While it attracts numerous tourists from around the world with the busy streets, flashing neon lights and other busy hotspots, there are some ‘hidden spots’ that will make you forget that you are in the middle of the metropole. Many people who visit Tokyo Imperial Palace, don’t know about the free guided tours nor the peaceful Imperial East Gardens. Whether you are interested in Japanese history or not, it is definitely worth a visit to explore scenic gardens or enjoy a refreshing walk around the historic building!

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Happy travelling!

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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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