In the centre of Tokyo lies a magnificent palace, home to their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. Surrounded by a water-filled moat and meticulous parkland, the Imperial Palace is a quiet, peaceful space that is steeped in rich history.
Built on the site of Edo Castle, the Imperial Palace has been the home of the imperial family since 1868 when the shogunate was overthrown and Japan’s capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Since then, it has been renovated and extended many times over, until it’s near-complete destruction in the Second World War by an Allied bombing raid in 1945. A few short months after that bombing, Emperor Hirohito declared the surrender of the Japanese armed forces from the basement of the palace, thus ending World War Two. It was rebuilt following the war, and opened in 1968.
The East Garden surrounds the palace in a stunning horticultural display. The garden is in impeccable condition, and particularly beautiful during March and April when the cherry blossoms are flowering in full force. It is worth heading to the Ninomaru Garden, planted with trees symbolic of each prefecture in Japan. The garden is dotted with various keeps, teahouses and other imperial structures from the Edo period, so keep an eye out for those. The East Garden is open daily, except Monday’s and Friday’s.
Visitors should be aware that the inner palace and gardens can be visited only on a guided tour, and only if that is booked in advance online. Tours depart twice a day on weekdays at 10am and 2pm – if you’re feeling lucky, try going straight to the office of the Imperial Household Agency, in the northwest corner of the grounds, to join a tour on the same day, but the success of that depends entirely on the mood of the staff. The palace has five main gates, all of which are within easy walk of nearby metro stations – the easiest to To Hirakawa-mon Gate, within five minutes of Takebashi Station on the Tozai Line.