The Imperial Palace of Tokyo (or Kokyo)
And here I am, finally reaching the end of this day of sightseeing and ending up with a walk around the Tokyo Imperial Palace, also known as Kokyo (literally “The Emperor’s residence”). As suggested by its name, the place is home to the Emperor and his family; therefore don’t expect to go inside or even close to the direct vicinity of the palace! This is of course not my goal, because what I am looking for above all is a quiet and relaxing place to finish this busy day, full of discoveries. Indeed, after a morning tour of Ueno Park, followed by the visit of Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park and Harajuku, before admiring cherry blossom at Shinjuku Gyoen and seeing Tokyo from the Metropolitan Building, I can tell you that I am getting seriously tired! I can easily imagine that this may seem like a lot in just one day, but just now that I took my time to visit each area and since 6AM this morning, let’s say that I’ve had enough time to do everything that was planned. Looking back at this, I think it was a great idea as the rest of my trip in Japan was about to get quite rainy and even locals told me it was something they haven’t seen for many years… So, by taking advantage of every sunny day, I’ve managed to enjoy my stay without feeling too many regrets. So, I’m in a quite sleepy state as I am reaching Tokyo Main Station in the heart of the district of Chiyoda.
Again, the path to the palace from the train station is perfectly indicated: follow the yellow signs! After several minutes surrounded by skyscrapers of the business district, I cross a wooden bridge and reach a large, modern square covered with fountains, ponds and flower beds. A small coffee shop is also present and can be used to mark a sweet break just before your visit around the palace. However, the prices there are more expensive than average and it is often difficult to find a table. I continue my walk and arrive soon near the former home of the Shogunate. While the Kings of France lived at Versailles, the shoguns (generals) of the Tokugawa era (1603-1867) sit at the heart of the capital, Edo. Peaceful and secret place, it subsequently undergoes the torments of history as many other Japanese historical monuments; destroyed by fire in 1873, it was rebuilt in 1888, then razed during the Second World War, and finally reconstructed in 1968. Formerly the world’s biggest castle, the Imperial Palace only features today its moats, ramparts and gardens. The East Gardens are also the only place open to the public, and although the palace is not directly accessible, Japanese can approach it a little closer twice a year: on January 2 and December 23, during the anniversary of the Emperor.
So it’s on a calm pace that I walk along the moat where I admire the beautiful reflections of the imposing overlooking ramparts. Of course, I take the opportunity to take a few pictures, some of which are looking great to me, without false modesty. The place is quiet, charming and pleasant, especially on a beautiful day like today. Here, a few cherry blossom and there, a large, dull esplanade without building acting like a border between the palace and its gardens and the rest of the city. This element was what surprised me the most during my first visit in Tokyo. Indeed, it was hard for me to conceive that someone had concreted such a huge place like this instead of making it a park or a garden with trees and flowers… In any case, for what is shown here, I must say that is is very well maintained and we have all to learn from the Japanese about it. About this and many other things actually, but perhaps not the 12 to 16 hours of daily work! Unless this is just an urban legend?
I keep following the walking path until the moat disappear under the Nijubashi, an elegant bridge with two arches leading to the main entrance of the palace. This is a very popular photo spot and many Japanese gathered here are getting pictured with this beautiful scenery in the background. It takes a while to get close to the edge of the moat and thus enjoy a clear view of the bridge and one of the buildings of the palace. The least I can say is that the view is worthy of a postcard! After a few pictures, I quickly leave my place to people jostling behind me and retrace my steps towards the entrance of the Gardens of the East. I still have about an hour before it closes, but I’ll enjoy every minute of it!