It was the last day of my one-month trip to Japan, and my last sightseeing trip with my fiance before I headed back to the states was to Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 and the Imperial Palace 皇居 in Tokyo.
After walking through Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 and eating some amazing shrine food (and of course picking up some omiyage), my fiance and I took the train from Meijijingu-mae Station (明治神宮前駅) to Otemachi Station (大手町駅) on the Chiyoda Line (千代田線). From there, we walked a short distance to the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace or Koukyo 皇居.
Wadakura Fountain Park, outside Otemachi Station on the way to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo – photo by kei
The Imperial Palace is the official residence of the Japanese Emperor. The huge grounds contain the main palace or Kyuuden 宮殿 as well as the imperial family’s private residence. The grounds are built over the site of the previous Edo Castle and includes 3.41 sq km with the gardens.
The view of the Imperial Household Agency Building from outside the Imperial Palace grounds – photo by kei
The Imperial Palace is generally off limits to the general population, but visitors are allowed inside on two occasions: December 23rd – the emperor’s birthday, and January 2nd – for New Year. Visitors can gather in the plaza of the main palace, and watch an address by the imperial family from the balcony.
Outside the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds – photo by kei
After a brief visit at the Imperial Palace, I have some suggestions for those planning to visit! My first suggestion is not to go in the middle of winter, because the gardens are dormant, and I imagine spring or autumn offer much better views. If you are interested in going to see the imperial family, just be aware that it will be very crowded on either the Emperor’s birthday or the New Year! The second suggestion is not to approach it from the south later in the day, because the pathways that cross the compound to the Fukiage Gardens on the western side of the Imperial Palace have restricted access just before dusk (like the Otemon 大手門 gate). I wish I had gone to the gardens earlier, because they are quite extensive, but I didn’t want to walk around the entire compound to get back to the station when the pathways closed. I really had poor planning for this stop ^^;; Check the Imperial Palace Official Site (and click on the Guide in Facilities link) to see the map of the grounds.
Tokyo, outside the Imperial Palace – photo by kei
When dusk began to fall, we headed to Tokyo Station 東京駅, where we visited at Christmas, which is only a 10 minute walk away from the Imperial Palace. I wanted to do some shopping at the character shops that have special Tokyo Station editions of some of the most popular characters (like Hello Kitty & Rilakkuma), and then we headed back to my fiance’s apartment.
Tokyo Station – photo by kei
I really didn’t want the day to end, because the next day I would be getting on a plane back to the US and my graduate studies. I would have to leave behind my fiance until he could join me later in the year, and that was not a pleasant thought. But, I had spent over a month with him in Japan traveling, getting to know his family, and most decidedly not studying, and so it was time to return to university and prepare to defend my thesis.
Next time, the exciting conclusion to my adventure: flying home on an airplane! Stay tuned (we’re almost to the end)!
Have you visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo? Do you have any suggestions to plan a better trip? Have you ever had a trip go not quite as well as you had planned? Or maybe you didn’t plan at all and it was the best trip ever? Let me know in the comments!