The Imperial Palace is an excellent place for walking and getting some great photographs. It is located in central Tokyo, about a ten minute walk from Tokyo Station. Formerly known as Edo castle, it contains several buildings including Chowaden reception hall, the private residence of the imperial family, an archive, the Imperial Household Agency office plus a museum and garden (next to the palace in a separate area). It’s just a bit unfortunate that we can’t see most of those buildings, but there is some other stuff there that can grab your eye!
So what can you see there? I think that everything a Tokyo-loving photographer could want: huge moats, cherry blossom trees, enormous walls, an impressive city landscape nearby and … it doesn`t get much better than that – the contrast of old castle with that of the modern urban landscape. Look into the palace and you can see a couple of the remaining towers and keeps as well. When you look at it in its entirety it is pretty amazing especially in fine weather.
All of these things make it a great place to enjoy a walk, especially on the weekends when all the joggers are out. But, if you decide to walk around it completely, you’ll soon notice that the palace is built on a hill so you`ll be walking up a gentle slope one way, and then down the other. It`s a very easy walk, nothing difficult about it at all.
Unfortunately for us, the majority of the medieval structures as well as the shoguns have gone, but even still today, a visit to the Imperial Palace can still give you a feeling that it must have been an incredibly imposing fortress in its heyday.
What can you see there?
Some of the things that are worth a look or a photograph include:
- The two keeps, Fushimi and Fujimi. Fushimi is definitely the easier of the two to get a good shot of;
- The Imperial Household Agency, which is one of the larger buildings inside the palace grounds that is easily visible from the outside;
- the Marunouchi skyline! When you reach the palace turn around and the buildings look pretty good in my opinion;
- the Sakurada gate area. From the outside you look up the hill and over the moat to get a good view of the Diet building;
- If I had to pick just one spot at the palace it would be without doubt, “Main Gate” (or Seimon, 正門, in Japanese). It has two Imperial guards on duty, Meganebashi ((Eye) Glasses bridge) in foreground with Niju bridge and Fushimi keep in the background. However at the time of writing (May 11, 2015) the gate was undergoing maintenance, which is scheduled to be completed in winter 2015
What’s not so good about the palace?
- Unfortunately you can`t enter the palace grounds. To do that you can go on December 23 (Emperor`s birthday), January 2 (when he gives New Year greetings) or take the Imperial Palace tour (which you can see here).
- The majority of the buildings within the palace are very low-set, which means you won`t be able to see a whole lot inside.
- For the majority of people all of the interesting stuff is on the Marunouchi side, which is the Tokyo station side. On the opposite side of the palace around the Hanzo gate it`s pretty empty, not a great lot to see.
- Maybe just my experience, the year the moat often seems to be filled with algae which doesn`t look that great.
- Places to eat and drink are very difficult to find near the palace. So if you are doing the complete circuit make sure you get something before you start, and;
- Unless you attend one of the events inside the palace such as the Emperor’s birthday, you’re never going to see him there.
How to get to the Imperial Palace?
The Imperial Palace is very easy to get to. There are several train and subway stations near it within easy walking distace, some closer than others though. Here is a Google map:
You can walk around the outside of the Imperial Palace twenty four hours a day. However, when there are special events at the palace some of the surrounding roads will be blocked off.
Best time to go
Spring is great if you want to see the many cherry blossom trees around the palace – truly picturesque. Autumn is good as well, when you can see the autumn leaves. Also, you can actually enter the palace on December 23 (the Emperor`s birthday) and January 2 (New Year`s greetings from the Emperor). Those events are truly amazing as the Emperor’s appearance always draws huge crowds!
How long does it take to walk around the Imperial Palace
At a leisurely pace it will take slightly more than an hour to walk around the perimeter of just the palace provided you didn`t stop to take pictures. So if you want to take pictures as well, that will of course add extra time. If you are limited for time however, the Marunouchi side would be perfect. Most of the main gates are there, as are the buildings mentioned in this article.
You can see the Imperial Household Agency website here.
A brief history of the Imperial Castle
Originally built in 1457 by Ota Dokan, it eventually became home to Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1590 and the seat of Tokugawa power. With the Tokugawa administration in Edo castle, the township of Edo rose to eventually become the greatest city in the county and eventually modern day Tokyo.
The photographs for this article were taken with a Pentax K3 camera. Lenses used were a Pentax SMC DA 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR and a Sigma 10-20mm 1:4-5.6DC HSM.