The Imperial Palace Gardens: Find Peace in Japan’s Busiest City

Tokyo’s intense crowds, underground subway passages, and blaring neon lights can make you claustrophobic.  The Imperial Palace Gardens offers a break with some of the loveliest scenery in Tokyo.

Escape the busy crush of commuting workers. Slow down, relax, and enjoy the beauty of the garden. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Tokyo station.

What To Do in The Gardens

Imperial Palace Tokyo Outer Gardens Wide View

Imperial Palace Outer Gardens – puttography / Shutterstock.com

The East Gardens – Two Areas With a Differing Emphasis

The Honmaru area offers open spaces perfect for picnics.

The Ninomaru area is a recreation of an Edo-period garden, a nod to the castle’s past.

Other Parts of the ParkImperial Palace Gardens Outer Gardens

The Outer Gardens offer a chance to see unique moats and bridges. They also offer fun for the more active tourist, with a 5 km jogging path and boats for rent.

The Imperial Palace isn’t open to the public for most of the year. Visitors are only allowed on the inner grounds on January 2nd (emperor New Year’s Greeting) and December 23rd (the birthday of the current emperor – Emperor Akihito) to see the Imperial Family make an appearance.

Video Tour of The Imperial Palace Grounds

History

Imperial Palace at Night

Imperial Palace at Night

The gardens sit on the grounds of what was once Edo Castle, the base of the Tokugawa shogunate. The gardens benefited from the concentration of power and business around the castle.

The area remained a center of power during the Meiji restoration.

The area was home to Japan’s first large Western-style buildings. Some of these charming old buildings remain to this day.

The most notable: the Marunouchi facade of Tokyo station. It sits on one end of the boulevard leading towards the Imperial Palace.

The Former Castle Tower

Imperial Palace Tokyo Castle Tower Ruins

Imperial Palace Castle Tower Remains – Takashi Images / Shutterstock.com

As you approach the Imperial Palace, you see traces of the castle’s defenses. They include stone walls and deep moats.

Little else remains of Edo Castle. The warrior-poet Ota Sukenaga built the castle in 1457. The castle was held and lost by the Hojo clan before Tokugawa Ieyasu took possession.

Tokugawa made Edo his capital when he became shogun in 1603. He developed the castle and the surrounding town.

The buildings came down to make way for a modern palace during the Meiji-period.

The scale of the moats and walls give you an idea of Edo castle’s size in its hey-day. The size of the castle grounds remains a testament to the strength and power of the Tokugawa clan.

Not impressed? At its height, the castle grounds stretched all the way to Tokyo Station.

Imperial Palace Tokyo Moat

Imperial Palace Moat – gary yim / Shutterstock.com

Imperial Palace East GardensImperial Palace Gardens East Garden

The east gardens consist of two sections: Honmaru and Ninomaru.

Honmaru

Honmaru offers space to relax; the park is a lovely respite from Tokyo’s crowds.

Let’s examine a few of its more noteworthy attractions.

Kokyo Gaien

Imperial Palace Tokyo Kokyo-Gaien

Garden in front of the Imperial Palace

Kokyo-Gaien is a large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace. Don’t miss the gorgeous Japanese black pine trees.

Niju-bashiImperial Palace Gardens Seimon Ishibashi Bridge

The Niju-bashi bridge was built in 1886. The bridge was one of the many checkpoints surrounding the palace.

In 1886, Niju-bashi captured attention because of its “modern” style. Now it’s the most famous bridge in Japan, loved for its period look.

The bridge is incredibly photogenic. You’ll love the lanterns, traditional bridge, and moat. This spot is a must for photographers.

Fushimi-yagura

Behind the bridge is Fushimi-yagura, a castle keep. Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa Shogun, moved it here from Fushimi Castle.

Trees of Honmaru

The cherry trees are popular from late-March to early April. You won’t believe your eyes when you see them in full bloom.

Honmaru also has ginkgo trees that turn a vibrant yellow in autumn. The black pines are striking any time of year.

Entry to the East Gardens is through the Kikyo-mon or Otemon gates.

Imperial Palace Tokyo Kikyo Gate

Kikyo-mon Gate

Hours

  • March 1st – April 14th: 9:00am – 4:30pm
  • April 15th – the end of August: 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • September 1st – the end of October: 9:00am – 4:30pm
  • November 1st – the end of February: 9:00am – 4:00pm
  • Entry to the East Gardens ends 30 minutes before the scheduled closing time

Closed

  • Mondays and Fridays
  • December 28th – January 3rd
  • The Emperor’s Birthday – December 23rd
  • If a national holiday falls on a Monday, the Garden will be closed on the following Tuesday
  • If there are any circumstances where it is deemed necessary to close the Garden

Check their calendar before you go to see if they are open.

Admission

Free

 

For More Information

Imperial Household Agency Homepage

Video Tour of the East Gardens

The Museum of the Imperial Collections

The museum contains 9,500 items collected by the Imperial family. The highlights include calligraphy and paintings from many historical masters.

Hours

  • March 1st – April 14th 9:00 a.m. – 4:15 p.m
  • April 15th – the end of August : 9:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m
  • September 1st – the end of October : 9:00 a.m. – 4:15 p.m
  • November 1st – the end of February : 9:00 a.m. – 3:45 p.m
  • Entry to the museum ends 15 minutes before the scheduled closing time

Closed

  • Mondays and Fridays
  • December 28th – January 3rd
  • The Emperor’s Birthday – December 23rd
  • If a national holiday falls on a Monday, the museum will be closed on the following Tuesday
  • If there are any circumstances where it is deemed necessary to close the museum
  • Preparation time for exhibits

Admission

Free

Other Section of the East Gardens

Ninomaru

Imperial Palace Gardens Ninomaru Garden

Takashi Images / Shutterstock.com

The Ninomaru is an Edo-period garden. It maintains the traditional style popular during the Tokugawa shogun’s rule.

It gives off a feeling of peace and tranquiality, so it’s a nice place to visit if you need a place to escape the city.

The Teahouse

Ninomaru also has the Suwa no Chaya, an Edo-period teahouse. It was originally inside the Fukiage garden. It was moved to the Akasaka Palace but was then reconstructed in its original location in 1912.

The Imperial PalaceImperial Palace Tokyo Front

The Imperial Palace isn’t open to visitors. You can see the palace grounds, but you must reserve a spot well in advance. Two 75- minute tours occur each day (10:00am and 1:30 pm, generally open most Tuesday – Saturday).

On January 2nd and December 23rd, the Imperial family assembles on the balcony and give a rare public greeting.

For More Information

Imperial Household Agency Website

The Outer Gardens

Kitanomaru Park

Imperial Palace Gardens Kitanomaru Park

Wayne0216 / Shutterstock.com

The park is a must-visit in cherry blossom season.

Approximately 260 cherry trees sit on both sides of the moat around Chidori-ga-fuchi.

Stroll beneath the blossoms and take in the view of the moats and walls. You’ll be swept back to the samurai-era, where Japan’s passion for the ephemeral blossoms began.

Boat RidesImperial Palace Tokyo Chidori ga fuchi boats

Catch a boat at the Chidori-ga-fuchi pier for a cool cherry blossom experience.

Prepare for a long wait around cherry blossom time. It takes up to 2 hours to get a place on a boat.

Don’t worry if it gets dark as you stand in line. The blossoms light up after dark. Unlike the East gardens, the outer gardens don’t close.

If the stretch of blossoms along the moat isn’t enough, the blossoms continue to Kitanomaru Park.

 

Boat Rental

  • 800 yen for 30 minutes during cherry blossom season
  • 500 yen for 30minutes the rest of the year

Boats are not available in winter

Kitanomaru Park Also Includes

The Nippon Budokan

The National Museum of Modern Art

National Museum of Modern Art Hours

  • Saturday, Sunday & Tuesday-Thursday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
  • Friday: 10:00am – 8:00pm
  • Closed Monday

If it’s a national holiday on Monday, the museum will be open that day, but be closed the following day.

Admission Varies by Exhibit

General Admission:

  • 430 yen for adults
  • 130 yen for University students

The Divisive Shrine

Imperial Palace Tokyo - Yasukuni Shrine

The controversial Yasukuni Shrine

Kitanomaru Park is near to one of Japan’s most notorious shrines — the divisive Yasukuni Shrine.

The Shinto shrine commemorates all those who died in the service of the Imperial family. The shrine lists over 1,000 war criminals…. including 14 A-class criminals.

Ceremonial visits from Japan’s leaders always cause an outcry in China and Korea.

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery

Imperial Palace Chidorigafuchi Natinoal Cemetary

Chidorigafuchi Natinoal Cemetary – By kawamoto takuo (千鳥ケ淵戦没者墓苑 | Flickr – Photo Sharing!) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery is a simple graveyard devoted to the unidentified dead of WWII.

The Jogging TrackImperial Palace Tokyo Woman Walking Around

The most popular feature of the Outer Gardens has nothing to do with cherry blossoms. It’s a jogging track. The track draws people of all ages to the Imperial Palace grounds.

The track wasn’t always popular. In the early 2000s, the only people using the track were a handful of foreigners working in Japan.

Tokyo residents now have a growing interest in fitness. At the track, you’ll find water fountains, lockers, and showers. A handful of public baths (sento) in the area attract visitors as well.

Approximately 5km, the track is the most well-known running track in Tokyo. It’s popular with cyclists, runners, joggers, and those who want to take a scenic stroll.

It’s a custom to run counter-clockwise around the track. Avoid running across gravel areas, or you might anger the palace guards.Imperial Palace Jogging

The National Showa Museum

The Outer Gardens features several museums. The National Showa Memorial Museum chronicles life between 1935 and 1955.

Hours

10:00am – 5:30pm

Closed

  • Mondays – If Monday is a national holiday, the following day will be closed instead
  • New Years (December 28th – January 4th)
  • March 31st

Admission

  • Adults: 300 yen
  • Seniors: 270 yen
  • High school and University students: 150 yen
  • Elementary and junior high students: 80 yen

For More Information

National Showa Memorial Museum English PDF 

The National Theater

The National theater is right down the street from the gardens.

It features traditional Japanese performance arts. They include kabuki and bunraku, two styles of Japanese drama.

For More Information

Japan Arts Council Homepage

Is it Worth Visiting?

Imperial Palace - Tokyo Outer Gardens

mperial Palace Outer Gardens

If your visit to Tokyo includes Shinjuku Gyoen Park, you can skip the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Given the history of the palace and its place in the Western imagination, you might not want to!

Go ahead and visit.

You’ll need time among the greenery after a few days in Tokyo. You may even need to hit the track to make up for time spent in Tokyo’s restaurants and bars!

How to Get There

Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Take the JR Lines or Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to Tokyo Station. Exit on the Marunouchi side. Walk straight down Gyoku-dori towards the Imperial Palace grounds.

It takes about 10-minute to walk to Kokyo-Gaien or 15-minutes to the Otemon Gate. Allow extra time to make your way through the station itself.

To head straight to the East Gardens

Take the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda, Tozai, Marunouchi, or Hanzomon Line. Or take the Toei Subway Mita Line to Otemachi station, an 8-minute walk away from Otemon gate.

Insider Tip

Imperial Palace - Tokyo Station Bento

Suchart Boonyavech / Shutterstock.com

If you want to picnic in the park, grab something to eat in Tokyo Station!

The underground complex below the station has amazing sweet shops, bakeries, and patisseries.

The bento (Japanese lunch box) stores offer something more substantial. Once you leave the station, there are few convenience stores in the area — a rarity in Japan.

Keep in mind Japan is short on trash bins. You’ll have to carry your trash away with you.

Are You a Fan of Gardens and Parks?

What gardens have you seen in Japan? Outside of Japan? Which ones do you want to see? Have you been to the Imperial Gardens?

What’s your favorite cherry blossom festival? How many have you attended? Where?

Let us know in the comments.

Don’t forget to share this article with your travel buddies. You can visit the gardens together. You might need it to get away from Tokyo’s congestion for a few hours.

Visiting the Imperial Palace Gardens is so pleasant and stress-free, it’s a walk in the park!

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