Project Description

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!

Higashi Gyoen or The East Gardens

It is so nice to get lost in these large green areas in the heart of a large city, I just love it! I enter Higashi Gyoen through the Otemon gate, but there are two other access gates: Hirakawamon and Kitahanebashimon, by which you’ll get direct access to Kitanomaru gardens which I’ll see a bit later. The entrance is free of charge and quietness is guaranteed as the number of people is limited. Indeed, at every gate, a guard gives visitors a token that you have to give back when you’ll take the way out. Once inside, you can then let go and discover the 21 hectares oriental garden of the Imperial Palace which is, as I remind you, the only part accessible to visitors. For those who want to know more about the garden and its history from the Edo period, a small guide in English is sold in the visitor area shortly after the Otemon gate.

As I cross ramparts and moats, I discover the area which is spread on different levels. The hewn stone walls around me are impressive and the gardens offer a beautiful landscape at this time of the year. I also admire many samurai training houses and former outposts of the castle. On the plateau, the area is cleared and the landscaped garden is very organized: roses, bamboo, cherry trees, etc. Each spot is defined and each element has its own little space. I finish my climb uphill right next to the remains of Tenshudai dungeon where is an air-conditioned rest area offering a panoramic view. Since the latter, I appreciate a beautiful view of the surroundings and I see even below the Science Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art.

Kitanomaru garden, quite charming, is revealed especially across large expanses of grass surrounded by walkways. A long pond covers the west side stroll, accompanied by flower beds that dot the area among the trees. Of course, there is also fine specimens of cherry trees to contemplate, but it won’t be a surprise for you to know that I’ve seen quite a lot of them throughout the day already! Ah yes, a little anecdote just for you: Kitanomaru is also the residence of the imperial guards and staff. Did you know that?

Chidorigafuchi

Before I left Japan, I had made a list of famous places where to admire cherry blossom and Chidorigafuchi is one of them. Located on the northwest moat of the former Edo Castle, a few meters away from the Yasukuni Shrine, the place is also known for its boats for rent that couples love, especially during the spring bloom! I get to the place easily from the East Gardens and follow the pathway on one side of the moat and will go back on the other side. In doing so, I have the opportunity to take some pictures of some of the 260 cherry trees planted around 700 meters long on both sides of the moat.

If I did my best to take pictures that capture the feelings of the place, getting out of this framework is a hard return to reality: heavy and constant noise of expressways that run along the Ryokudo ride will quickly tarnish many of the romantic boat trips. I guess it is slightly attenuated in the evening when the traffic is lower and the nocturnal charm of the place awakens as do the lamps that illuminate the cherry trees. As for a boat ride, I pass, because the activity is clearly intended for couples or parents with children. If you are interested, come very early or arm yourself with patience as the waiting line extends to sometimes more than two hours!

Being so tired, I start having difficulties to walk and even if I have good shoes, I cannot wait to take them off! However, I’ll have to wait a bit, just the time for me to get to the nearest subway station and quickly after, back to the hostel where I am staying. For my dinner, I buy a bento in a small shop nearby and quietly enjoy it in the dining room of the hostel. After that, a quick shower, brushing teeth and under the blanket for a long and sleepy night!