Located next to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was the former site of the grand Edo Castle, transformed today to the beautiful and serene East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
We often get asked by friends and readers on Japan travel tips and itineraries so we try our best to share our Japan experiences on the blog. However, one city we didn’t have much travel content on was Tokyo. Why? Since Nami’s family only lives 7 miles (15 km) from Tokyo and 15 miles (23 km) to Shibuya, it never seemed like a “Japan travel destination” for us.
As we get repeated request for Tokyo travel guide, we spent 6 days this past summer in Tokyo exploring different wards, activities to do, places to visit and eat. This is just the beginning of our Tokyo travel guide and we’ll continue adding to these posts as we explore new adventure and experiences. We hope you will enjoy traveling throughout Tokyo with our family.
The reality is that it’s impossible to finish exploring Tokyo in 6 days, or even possibly a month. There are simply way too many options for dining, sightseeing, and entertainment! This is our first effort to share Tokyo with you and we hope you’ll enjoy our journey. There is something for everyone in Tokyo so pick and choose what your heart desires when you visit.
For the Tokyo travel guide series, we’ll share the following posts:
- Shinjuku 新宿
- Meiji Jingu 明治神宮
- Harajuku and Omotesando 原宿・表参道
- Shibuya 渋谷
- Roppongi 六本木ヒルズ
- Tokyo Tower (update) 東京タワー
- Ginza 銀座
- Imperial East Garden 皇居東御苑
- Akihabara 秋葉原
- Ueno 上野
- Kappabashi かっぱ橋道具街
- Tokyo Dome City 東京ドームシティー
- Asakusa (update) 浅草
- Tokyo Sky Tree (update) 東京スカイツリー
- Odaiba お台場
You might notice there are many areas/wards/stations we missed in Tokyo from the above list, like Tokyo Station. It’s because we simply ran out of time to cover and will add it in a future trip. If you have any specific requests, please comment below and we’ll try to add it to our future itineraries.
The Imperial Palace 皇居
Since 1868, when the Imperial Palace moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, it has been home of Japan’s Imperial family. The palace ground is divided into 2 parts, private and public. In the map below,
- Private residence and grounds where the Imperial Family resides is the larger portion to the left.
- Public park – The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace open to the public on the right.
You can see from the map below how large the land the Imperial Palace sits on is compared to the surrounding areas.
There are guided tours available for the private residential area and you can click here to learn more. If you are not able to secure one of the spots to visit the Imperial Palace, you can still go to the iconic Seimon Ironbridge see the main entrance to the palace.
Another location near the palace entrance that’s open to the public is the Sakurada-mon Gate. This is where the historical event Sakurada-mon Incident happened.
There are no other areas open to the public near the Imperial Palace so head on over to Ote-mon Gate and the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace 皇居東御苑
Even though the Imperial Family resides on the left portion (Nishinomaru) area today, historically the Edo castle was located on East Gardens where the base still stands today.
Before you head over to the East Gardens, learn from our lesson, make sure the East Gardens is actually open. Generally, it’s closed every Monday and Friday except for specific national holidays. Needless to say, our children were not in a good mood walking in the summer heat to find the gardens closed on our first try.
On our second attempt, the park was open. Yay! From the Ote-mon gate, you can look down Eitai Dori and the tall skyscrapers that lined the street.
History of The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
As I mentioned early, the location of the current East Gardens used to be Honmaru and Ninomaru area (center area) of Edo Castle, where the shoguns and their generals lived. Edo Castle was first built in 1457 by Edo Shigetsugu and occupied throughout time by famed historical figures such as Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康). The castle was burnt down in 1873 and the Imperial Place was built in Nishinomaru area instead of Honmaru area.
When you walk through Ote-mon Gate, you pass through a smaller gate first then a much bigger gate to the right. It was constructed this way for defense as enemies can be trapped between the gates and attacked from the larger gate.
The east gardens are quite large and separate into 3 areas, Honmaru, Ninomaru, and Sannomaru. Once you enter the park, you will notice Saannomaru Shozokan (三の丸尚蔵館) which is a museum that displays the artwork from the imperial family. No photos were allowed inside the museum.
As you continue on the path, you will find 2 guardhouses, Doshi-bansho Guardhouse (同心番所) and Hyakunin Bansho Guardhouse(百人番所) . Doshi-bansho Guardhouse was a waiting room for the daimyo’s advisors and staff while he attends the ceremony in Honmaru as they were not allowed to join. Hyakunin Bansho Guardhouse housed over 100 of Tokugawa Shogun’s guards.
Continue on the path heading north and you’ll see remanents of the Edo Castle wall and the Ninomaru Grove (二の丸庭園).
Ninomaru Grove and Garden form the eastern portion of the garden.
In Ninomaru Garden there is a koi pond, sunflower and iris garden, and Suwa-no-chaya teahouse (諏訪の茶屋). There are paths inside the garden for visitors to stroll through.
As you exit the garden, follow the Shiomi0-zaka slope to the Honmaru area of the Edo Castle. At the top of the slop, you’ll see some buildings to the right including the music department building, Tokagakudo Concert Hall, and Archives Building.
Next to the buildings was the base of the former Edo Castle Tenshudai (天守台). You can hike to the top of the tenshudai for views of the gardens.
Where Honmaru Palace used to be, today it’s now a large lawn area surrounded by paths. Within the honmaru area, there’s a tea garden, orchard, and a rose garden.
After exploring the honmaru area, head down the path which used to be Chujaku-mon Gate (中之門跡) and you’ll see O-bansho guardhouse (大番所) on your left.
The stonewalls around this area were restored from 2005 – 2007.
In the city that never sleeps, it’s difficult to find some peace and quiet. If you are exhausted from your visit to Japan, stop by the East Garden for some relaxation. It was not crowded or overrun by tourist when we were there and there are many different parts within the gardens for visitors to explore.
As always, thank you for reading our travel post. We hope you enjoyed traveling with us. If you are interested in reading about other parts of Japan, click here to read about our other travel experiences. We’ll see you soon in our next travel post, the electric city Akihabara.
Just a quick reminder, here is post list for our Tokyo series.