The Imperial Palace is both a literal and figurative center of the Japanese capital. Situated in the center of Tokyo, the palace grounds were once the home of Edo Castle, the seat of government of the Tokugawa shogunate and the focal point around which the country turned for nearly three centuries. When the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in the 1860s, the Imperial Family made the journey as well and a new residence was constructed for them on the site of the former castle. Today, the palace remains the home of the Japanese Imperial Family and the grounds are a popular spot for seasonal flower viewing.
The Imperial Palace covers 1.3 square miles just a short walk west of Tokyo Station. The site encompasses not just the quarters for the Imperial Family themselves, but also the east gardens, the watchtowers, ruins of the old keep, and plenty of parkland for leisurely strolls.
The East Gardens are arguably one of the palace’s main draws. Open from Tuesday through Thursday and again on the weekends, the sculpted landscape here includes a pond with stepping stones, a waterfall and numerous flowers that bloom throughout the seasons. Highlights include the bright pink hues of the azaleas in early spring and the field of purple irises in June. Visitors can also visit the remains of the stone base of Edo Castle, the only vestiges remaining of the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate.
On the opposite side of the castle complex, the Kitanomaru Park section erupts into bubble-gum pink every spring during cherry blossom season. Crowds line the pathway along the Chidorigafuchi moat to enjoy this colorful spring spectacle, while a lucky few can take to the old moat in a rowboat for a closer view of the blooms.
Twice a year, on December 23rd and January 2nd, part of the inner palace is opened to the public. On these dates, the Emperor makes several public addresses to the gathered crowds, with the rest of the royal family often in attendance.
In March 2018, the Imperial Household Agency began offering tours in English of the palace grounds. Tour participants can enjoy a closer view of the Fujimi-Yagura and Fushimi-Yagura watchtowers, as well as several other buildings. Tours are free and can be booked online.
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