The Imperial Palace is one of the attractions near the Tokyo Station, most especially during spring. It’s not listed as one of the best hanami spots in the city for nothing. People would line up for hours just to rent a boat to paddle the length of the Chidorigafuchi Moat lined with hundreds of sakura trees. It’s a heavenly place to be.
The other hanami spot in the same compound but with fewer sakura trees is the East Gardens of the palace. Sakura in this place is on my bucket list.
But no matter what the season, the place though, is still worth the visit because of its serenity and yes, its history.
Here’s a bit of its royal past.
Before it came to be the Imperial Palace on the first year of the Meiji Era, it was called the Edo Castle built by Ota Dokan (1432-1486).
It became the seat of the Tokugowa shogun for 15 generations on his rule from 1602 to 1867.
When the shogunate was overthrown in 1868 and Japan’s capital and Imperial residence was moved to Tokyo from Kyoto, Emperor Meiji made it to his new residence and renamed it to Tokei Castle (Tokyo was also called Tokei then).
It was in 1869 when it was named as the Imperial Palace.
If you’re lucky to be in Tokyo on January 2 or December 3, you can enter the inner palace grounds and catch the members of the Imperial Family making their public appearances on the balcony for the New Year’s greeting and Emperor’s birthday, respectively.
For the rest of the year, the inner grounds are not open to the public. However, guided tours are offered around the palace grounds. You can’t enter the building though.
What is open to the public throughout the year is the Kokyo Higashi Gyoen or the , and entrance is free.
The 210,000 square-meter garden, which was opened to the public in 1968, is part of the inner palace area and covers much of the Edo Castle’s innermost circles of defense: the Honmaru, the principal compound where the castle owner lived his everyday life and administered to state affairs; the Ninomaru, the second compound located outside of the Honmaru, where feudal lords were met by the castle owner; and a part of the Sannomaru, the third compound surrounding the Ninomaru.
Except for the moats, walls, several guardhouses and entrance gates, none of the main buildings remain today.
A good view of the vast lawn can be enjoyed from the former Edo Castle’s Tenshudai Donjon Base on hilltop. The castle tower was the tallest donjon ever built in Japan which symbolized the authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It got burnt down in 1657 after it was completed in 1638 and was never reconstructed.
I had a cool, relaxing walk around the East Garden. I can just imagine beautiful the place must be at springtime. I will be back to this place when the sakura blooms.
The Imperial Palace is a ten-minute walk from Tokyo Station.
Also published in the SunStar Davao newspaper.