Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The Imperial Palace of Tokyo is located in the heart of the capital. This location is no accident as originally a defensive Edo Castle was built on the site of present-day Tokyo in 1457, which became the residence of the Emperor in 1868. The castle over time has acquired new buildings. And today the palace of the emperors of Japan is an oasis in the stone jungle of the Japanese capital.

But the imperial castle was not always located in Tokyo, during the Tokugawa shogunate, the emperor’s court lived in the Japanese capital of Kyoto. It was not until the return of power to the Emperor of Japan in 1868 that the court moved to Edo, which was named To:Kyo, the Japanese pronounce the name of the capital as it means “Eastern Capital”.

History of the palace

In the fifteenth century Edo Castle was a small settlement at the confluence of three rivers, on the shore of the sea bay. Edo translates as “Gateway to the Bay.” At the end of the sixteenth century, Ieyasu Tokugawa, established Edo as a political and administrative center, which in time became more important than the imperial capital. At the same time he began a major reconstruction of the castle. Construction of the castle lasted from 1593 to 1636.

It was a massive undertaking in which more than 300,000 people took part. The daimyo (military lords of Japan in the Middle Ages) provided the materials for the construction, mainly delivered granite stones, and those who were not materially able participated in the works, dug ditches, strengthened embankments, made dams. The castle was a huge construction with 38 gates, 20-meter high ramparts and 12-meter high outer walls. The main tower of the castle was considered the highest in Japan, its height was 51 meters.

The construction of Edo Castle is one of the greatest feats of engineering in Japanese history.

Even what remains of Edo Castle today testifies to the thoroughness with which it was built.

imperial palace

stone foundations of the main tower

In 1868, the court of the Meiji Emperor (ruled from February 3, 1867 to July 30, 1912) established itself in the Shogun Castle. In 1873 the castle burned to the ground and on the ruins of the holy of holies of Edo Castle, surrounded by trees and picturesque gardens, was built in 1888 a new palace for the imperial family, called Meiji Palace.

The castle moats, walls, watch houses, and the base of the tower, which is pictured above, all remain from the Edo Castle.

In May 1945, as a result of the bombing of the U.S. air force, Meiji Palace burned. It was not until 1959 that a decision was made to build a new imperial palace on the site of the burned one. The construction was completed in 1968.

The Imperial Palace is home, in the literal sense, to the Emperor of Japan and his wife. The palace also regularly hosts diplomatic meetings. On some days the doors of the palace are open to the public.

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Visiting days at the Imperial Palace

Twice a year visitors are allowed into the inner garden of the Imperial Palace.

The emperor and his family greet the inhabitants of Japan and tourists from the glass balcony and address them with a welcoming speech. This important event takes place on January 2 and the emperor’s birthday.

January 2 is a permanent date, on the second day of the new year there is a traditional meeting of the emperor with the people, and the second date is variable and is the birthday of the reigning emperor. Since 1989 the day when you can see Emperor Akihito and visit the Imperial Palace is December 23.

General Information

The Imperial Palace is an entire complex of structures. It is usually divided into western and eastern parts, in total occupying an area of 741 hectares. On the territory of the palace complex there are three shrines – Kashikodokoro, Koreiden and Shinden, the Peach Music Hall and the Imperial Laboratory. There are also the Nijubashi and Meganebashi bridges and the Fuji Yagura watchtower.


Many of the structures of the complex are made of concrete, some of the buildings have no historical value, as built in the last century after the end of World War II.

The modern palace of the emperor is very modest compared with the Edo Castle, it is inherent in a strict simplicity with a touch of sophistication.

Tokyo passed laws prohibiting the construction of a subway under the complex and helicopter flights over it. The castle is carefully guarded and serves as the official residence of the Emperor of Japan.

The Eastern Palace Park spreads out at the entrance to the inner palace, here you can walk for free and admire the beautiful trees, in the park there are fountains and ponds with fish. The remains of the Edo Castle and the Koyo Higashi Gyoen Garden are located here. The Emperor’s house can usually be admired from afar.Also free to visit are the Outer Garden of the Imperial Palace and Kitanomaru Park.

The castle is surrounded by a thick wall and a moat. Today, these elements are preserved as decorative, but in the past centuries, they served a protective function.

On the territory of the garden are allowed from 9-00. The closing time depends on the time of year. From November to February visiting ceases at 16-00, in the summer months – at 17-00, in September, October and March – at 16-30.

imperial palace

How to get on a tour

Guided tours around the palace and in the palace itself are only available with the permission of the special department by prior request. Guided tours of the palace are conducted in Japanese and English, but there is usually nothing to see, as the situation is rather ascetic and the usual luxury of palaces is missing.

The palace administration forms groups, appoints the time and assigns a guide. Opening hours are also determined by this body. The castle gates are closed on Fridays and Mondays. Visits are also stopped on other days when the emperor is holding official events.

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What to see


Walking through the eastern garden, the visitor can see the remains of fortifications. Unfortunately the tallest tower in the country hasn’t survived. Today we can see only the remains of the foundations of this structure. They are clearly visible from the hill of the first citadel “honmaru”.

The Banse gate, on the other hand, has been preserved in its original form. This was the place where the emperor’s guests used to be inspected.

The complex consisted of an inner and outer part, separated by a moat. They are connected by the “double bridge” of Nijubashi. The name was given to the structure because of the reflection in the water, which gives the impression of a bifurcated bridge; this is one theory, but it is also said that the name “double-deck bridge” came from the presence of double girders made for the strength of the bridge. You can see it from the square near the castle.

It is recommended to see the ancient castle from the Shogun era. The pagoda is a classic example of Japanese architecture. Recently, at the initiative of the emperor, an architectural park has been developed on the territory of the complex. Antiquities from all over the country are brought here in order to ensure the preservation of cultural and historical values.

Of interest are the Imperial laboratory and sanctuaries. There is a museum in the complex where Japanese relics are kept. More than 10 thousand valuable works of art are collected here. Residents are particularly reverent about the sacred necklace, a copy of which is used by the emperor in religious ceremonies.

The Peach Music Hall, とうかがくどう tokagaku-do, hosts cultural events to which the audience is admitted. Most often, small national bands performing works by Japanese and European authors perform. Sometimes foreigners give concerts in this hall. For example, at the invitation of the emperor, Mstislav Rostropovich and Yuri Bashmet at various times played music here.

Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo , otherwise known as the Imperial Castle, is located in a large park area in the center of the Japanese capital, in the special district of Chiyoda. This architectural and landscape complex is considered one of the main landmarks of the Land of the Rising Sun and an unofficial symbol of its statehood. The palace buildings cover an area of 741 hectares and are administered by the Imperial Court of Japan.

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Video: Imperial Palace in Tokyo


The Imperial Palace is adjacent to government offices – parliament, ministries, courts, embassies – as well as popular tourist attractions – Nippon Budokan Arena, Tokyo Station, Yasukuni Shrine, and the Tokyo Forum. The snow-white building with a pointed roof surrounded by fluffy pine trees resembles an “oasis of tranquility” in the heart of a densely populated metropolis. The castle has two above-ground storeys and one underground. It is built of modern reinforced concrete structures, but with the use of elements of traditional architecture. The interiors of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo are also made in the Japanese style and richly decorated with precious wood. There are several rooms for audiences and receptions, banqueting and dining halls, an office for the emperor’s work, and other rooms.

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For centuries the imperial palace has been surrounded by wide protective moats with water and massive walls. It is as if they fence off the dwelling of the Viceroy of the Sun on the Earth from the noise of the city. Nearby stretches the picturesque natural oasis – the Inner and Eastern Gardens. Unlike the famous castles of Europe, the Japanese Imperial Palace has no ostentatious wealth and luxury, its graceful architecture is emphasized strict and simple.

Today it is the residence of Emperor Akihito of Japan. Because of this, the territory of the palace complex is carefully guarded, no subway lines are built under it, and the ground space is closed to helicopters.

Unfortunately, tourists can only admire the Imperial Palace from afar. It is also not possible to stroll through the park alleys adjacent to it. Visitors can only access the Oriental Garden (Koyo Higashi Gyoen), but it is also closed on Mondays and Fridays and on any other days when the Imperial family is attending ceremonial events.

However, this rule has exceptions: twice a year, after the celebration of the New Year – January 2 and on the Emperor’s Birthday – December 23, everyone has the opportunity to visit the Inner Gardens and watch the members of the imperial family. They appear before the public on the glazed balcony to greet guests.

Adjacent to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the surrounding gardens are the fashionable shopping district of Ginza and the business district of Katsumagaseki, where the offices of most Japanese government agencies and ministries are concentrated. Just north of the palace complex in the public area is the Japanese National Archives.

History of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The dynasty of Japanese emperors is the oldest in the world. The first emperor began to rule the country as early as 660 BC. For the Japanese, their ruler is an unquestionable authority, as well as a paragon of honesty, dignity and modesty. According to the basic law of the country, the emperor is a symbol of the country. However, nowadays he has no real power in the state.

Beginning in 1457, the site where the Imperial Palace now stands was Edo Castle, which belonged to the local feudal lord, the samurai warlord Ota Dokan. Since the 17th century this was the seat of the Tokugawa dynasty rulers (shogunates) of Japan, 15 generations of which ruled the country from 1603 to 1867. Then, during the civil war, the shogunate was overthrown, restoring direct imperial rule. The capital of the country was moved from Kyoto to Edo, which in turn was renamed Tokyo, which means “eastern capital” in Japanese. Thus, as a result of state transformations, the old castle became the residence of the new Japanese emperor.

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In 1873, Edo Castle was burned to the ground in a massive fire, and the Japanese set about building another palace. A new palace complex for the Meiji Emperor was completed in 1888. It housed the Throne Hall and the Phoenix Hall, the Western and Eastern Reception Rooms, the Far and Harvest Halls, and the Hall of a Thousand Meals, where banquets were held.

The buildings of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were constantly destroyed by frequent fires at the time. In the 19th century, for example, the tall palace tower, which dominated the entire castle, was burned by a lightning strike. The palace suffered even greater damage during World War II. The palace was badly damaged by the bombing that Allied forces carried out in Tokyo during the last year of the war. Direct hits severely destroyed the Imperial Apartments and Throne Room, and the wooden structures burned in the fires. The then reigning Emperor Hirohito was forced to hide from the bombing in the iron and concrete basement of the palace library. It was from there, on August 15, 1945, that he addressed the nation by radio and declared his acceptance of the terms of surrender.

After the war, as early as 1959, the Japanese government decided to rebuild the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. And if in the 19th century buildings mainly used wood, in the 20th century the Japanese erected buildings of reinforced concrete and made them in the European architectural traditions, so today on the territory of the complex you can see the architecture of mixed styles.

What you can see on the territory of the complex

There are no independent walks through the Imperial Palace. It can be viewed by special permission from the Imperial Court of Japan, only as part of an organized tour group accompanied by a guide. Tours for visitors are conducted in English and Japanese. They must be applied for in advance.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo consists of the outer and inner parts, which are connected by two bridges – Nijubashi. The name means “double bridge” in Japanese. They can be seen from the large square, which is located in front of the palace building. The stone bridge, built in 1887, is called “Meganebashi” (“eyeglass bridge”) for its shape. It used to have two levels and was wooden.

In addition to the emperor’s chambers, the Imperial Laboratory and the three palace sanctuaries, which are located to the west of the new imperial palace, can be seen in the complex. The palace complex also includes a museum with about 10,000 works of art, preserved by many generations of emperors. Among the palace pavilions, the building of the palace of imperial shrines, designed for religious ceremonies, deserves special attention. One of the most revered imperial regalia, the sacred necklace, is kept there.

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On the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is the Tokogakudo Concert Hall, also called the Peach Music Hall. This unusual in architecture building was erected in 1963, having decided thus to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the wife of the previous emperor. Here the musicians of the small orchestra created in the palace often perform. They perform both traditional Japanese music and works by European composers. Music lessons are loved by all members of the imperial family, and many of them are quite good at playing various instruments. And of famous Russian musicians, Mstislav Rostropovich and Yuri Bashmet played in the concert hall of the palace.

Curiously, the Emperor of Japan and his wife are the only permanent residents of the Imperial Castle. The family of the Crown Prince and the family of the couple’s second son live in another part of Tokyo.

Eastern Gardens

The green parkland surrounding the palace complex was laid out and opened to the public in 1968. In former times, these lands were part of the defense of the residence of the Japanese ruler. Here there was a whole system of fortifications created to prevent enemy troops from breaking through to the place where the emperor and his inner circle lived. These defensive lines have not survived to this day. However, if one climbs the hilltop of the first defense circle, the so-called inner citadel, a wide platform with remnants of a rectangular stone base opens up to the eye. The highest tower in the country, designed to defend the castle, stood here. It was built in 1638. However, this mighty fortification didn’t last long at all. In 1657, the huge tower burned down in a devastating fire, and there was no need to rebuild it.

The Banse gate survived almost unchanged to this day. It was the place where all visitors heading to the palace were thoroughly examined by the imperial guard.

The second circle of defense of the ancient Edo Castle (“ninomaru”) is now occupied by the trees and shrubs of the luxurious Japanese garden. It is especially nice here in autumn, when the leaves of the “Momiji” maples turn purple and bright yellow.

How to get there

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is located in the Chiyoda district of the city. It is only a 10-minute walk from the train station and Tokyo subway station. The garden area is open to guests daily, except on Mondays, Fridays and days when official events are held there. Visiting is free. From April to August you can go there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in September, October and March from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from November to February from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance to the gardens closes half an hour before closing time.

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