It was our second day in Japan. First order of the day was to visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I already knew that the inner palace grounds were not open to the public at the time. Still, I wanted to at least see the outside of it in person.
It was a 16 minute walk from our hotel (Sakura Hotel Jimbucho) to the Kitahane-bashi-mon Gate, which turned out to be the entrance into the East Imperial Gardens and NOT where the Imperial Palace building was located.
* Site Map photo taken from the Imperial Household Agency website here.
But we were already there and the entrance into the garden grounds was free… so we decided that we might as well go in and have a look around.
Here are the highlights that we found inside the Imperial Palace East Gardens with a bit of information for each one at the bottom of the photos. Enjoy!
Tenshu-Dai Base (number 16 in site map): It is the remaining foundation of the former castle tower (known as the tallest castle tower in the history in Japan) where the Tokugawa shogunate ruled the country. It was destroyed by a fire in 1657 and has never been rebuilt.
Toka-gakudo (Concert Hall) (Number 18 in Site Map):
“The Tokagakudo is an octagonal concert hall located within the imperial gardens of Tokyo. In Japanese, “Tokagakudo” means “peach blossom” and the structure is designed to resemble a flower.
The Tokagakudo was built as a concert hall in 1966 in honor of Empress Kojun. She was the consort of Emperor Hirohito, the longest serving Japanese emperor who became the symbol of modern Japan after World War II. She was a well known patron and lover of classical music. The hall was opened to commemorate the 60th birthday of the empress who died in the year 2000.”
Ishi-Muro (Stone Cellar) (Number 6 in Site Map): A 20 sqaure meter stone cellar built as a storage area for important articles in case of emergencies such as fires.
Site of the Honmaru (Main Compound) (Inner Circle) (Number 7 in Site Map): This used to be the central and innermost part of the castle which included the main tower (Tenshu-Dai) and the residence of the shogun. This area was destroyed several times by fire and in the present day, has been turned into an open space field perfect for picnics on a nice sunny day.
Fujimi-tamon Defense House (Number 5 in Site Map):
Written on the Info Board:
…is the sole surviving example of the defence houses which, in the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate, together with towers and walls, circled the Honmaru (the main compound) of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle.
*Upon entering, Jan and I were asked to take our shoes off and given a plastic bag each to put our shoes in while inside.
Site of the Matsu-no-o-roka (Number 4 in Site Map): The actual corridor or structure it was once part of is no longer physically present. The site now just blends in with the rest of the garden with trees and plants growing in the area and there’s this information board that tells a bit of a story.
Written on the Information board:
“Here is the site of the Matsu-no-o-roka, one of the longest and widest corridors of the Tokugawa Shogun’s Edo Castle palace, where in 1701 a daimyo (feudal lord) called Asano Takumi-no-kami abruptly attacked Kira Kozuke-no-suke, a high ranking expert in ceremonies in the Tokugawa Shogunate. While Kira escaped with slight injuries, Asano was ordered by the Shogunate to commit honourable suicide on the same day. The incident became the prologue to the story of the 47 ronins (former subjects of Asano), who, in the following year, would accomplish their master’s wish to kill Kira. A famous story which has been recreated in various forms, such as Bunraku (puppetry), Kabuki, novels and TV dramas, for centuries.”
Fujimi-Yagura (Fuji-Viewing Tower) (Number 1 on site Map): Once a guard tower built 350 years ago, it replaced the main tower when it burned down in 1657. It is also said that it was used by Edo elites to view Mt. Fuji, hence it’s name which means “Mt. Fuji viewing tower.”
O-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 11 on Site Map): The guardhouse that protected Edo Castle’s Honmaru or ‘inner circle’ (Number 7 on Site Map).
Doshin-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 13 on Site Map): One of the three remaining guardhouses in the area. It served as a checkpoint for anyone entering through the Ote-mon gate which was the main entrance to the castle grounds. Samurai guardsmen kept watch 24/7.
Hyakunin-bansho (Gaurdhouse) (Number 14 on Site Map): The biggest guardhouse inside that is situated by the Ote-mon gate. It was the quarters of one hundred samurai guardsmen (closely related to the Tokugawa clan) who worked in alternating shifts 24/7. Visitors who entered the main entrance of the castle (Ote-mon gate) during the Edo Period were screened here.
Ninomaru Garden (Secondary Circle) (Number 25 on Site Map):
Written on the Information Board:
“This area was Ninomaru (the second compund) of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle. Though palaces were built and gardens were created here, repeated fires destroyed the area before the closing of the Shogunate period. This garden was created in 1964 modelling a garden which existed here in the mid-18th century.”
Iris Garden (Number 26 on Site Map): The garden is named “Ninomaru-teien” — the secondary area of the Edo castle before. The garden is based on the original garden designed by Enshu Kobori — a samurai, master of tea ceremony and famous japanese garden designer.
Unfortunately, when we visited the garden the Iris flowers were no longer in bloom as it was already the start of Autumn season. The flowers are best seen during late spring time between the months of May and June.
Suwa-no-cha-ya (Number 22 on Site Map): A tea house which was previously located in the Fukiage Garden of the Imperial Palace during the Edo Period. It was reconstructed in 1912 and relocated to its current location when the East Garden was constructed.
Sannomaru Shozokan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections): We concluded our exploration of the Imperial Palace East Gardens at the Museum of the Imperial Collections (located within the garden grounds) where works of art donated by the Imperial family are displayed.
“Located in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Collections boasts a collection of about 9,500 works of art and craft, including paintings and calligraphy, that have been passed down through successive generations of the Imperial family.
In 1989, after Emperor Showa passed away, the Imperial family donated 6,500 works of art to the nation and construction of this facility commenced in 1992, to provide a place where they could be managed, stored, and researched, as well as being displayed to the general public. The works went on display in 1993.”
– Japan National Tourism Organization