December 23, 2012 was the Emperor of Japan`s birthday and Around Tokyo visited the Imperial Palace to see him acknowledge the well-wishes of the crowd.  It was a fantastic morning attended by literally thousands and thousands of visitors to the palace.  To see the Emperor appear on the balcony of Chowaden Hall while the crowd burst into excited cheering and flag waving was quite an experience.

The Emperor and the Empress Michiko enter the balcony of Chowaden Hall

The Emperor, who turned 79, looked in very good health.  He thanked the people for their support during his illness the year and also wished for the recovery of the earthquake and tsunami ravaged areas in Tohoku.  Also in attendance with the Emperor were his wife, the Empress Michiko, the heir apparent Prince Naruhito and his wife Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko.  The Emperor`s daughter, Nori no longer attends as she married a commoner in 2005 and is no longer considered a member of the Imperial family.

As soon as he finished the crowd broke into another round of cheers, flag waving and applause.  After it died down the Emperor made way off the balcony and the crowd departed.  Even though it is a short ceremony, going to the Imperial Palace on the Emperor`s birthday is a great event for anyone with an interest in Japan.

Why see the Emperor on his birthday?

You enter a real palace and see some of the main buildings (Chowaden Hall and the Imperial Household Agency building) and see some very historic ones (such as Fushimi and Fujimi keeps plus the former Privy Council building) that you could never see otherwise (unless you join the tour of the palace).  And it is pretty amazing to be squeezed in the Chowaden plaza with so many other people and hear all of them burst into applause and cheer when the Emperor appears.  You also get to see a member of royalty celebrate their birthday which is pretty impressive.  Plus it is possible to get some pretty good shots of the Japanese Imperial family.  And on top of that it is completely free.  I think most people who attend, find it quite exciting.

A sea of red and white flags greets the Imperial family

How do you get into the Imperial Palace?

Getting to it is half the fun.  As you leave Tokyo station (the closest major station) via the Marunouchi exit, you`ll see all the people walking in direction of the palace.  The number of people walking will just grow and grow.  The closer you get to the palace the sense of excitement will start to build.  When you arrive outside the gates, you line up with everyone else and get your pat down from a police officer plus a bag check, then enter through the main gate and pass into the plaza in front of Chowaden Hall via Nijubashi (the double-arch bridge).

Here is a Google Map if you are going to go in the future (please note that sometimes the gates used at the palace might change):

View Route to Tokyo’s Imperial Palace in a larger map

If you are ever in Tokyo on December 23 and need something to do, I would highly recommend going to the palace to see the Emperor on his birthday.  It`s an extremely pleasant way to spend a morning (he appeared three times this year) and that leaves you the afternoon to do something else.  Tokyo station, Ginza and Marunouchi are all near with lots to do.

Picture gallery

 Things to be aware of

1.  If you carry a bag, you will need to open it for a security check;

2.  The police (they have female officers there too) will give you a pat down;

3.  If you carry a digital camera, you will need to switch it on as a part of the security check, and;

4.  There are no toilets you can use inside the palace walls.


For further information you can see the Imperial Household Agency`s (English) website here.

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