On the 23rd December, in the return up to Christmas, Japan celebrates the Emperor’s Birthday. Crowds flock from Tokyo Station to the Imperial Palace with Japanese flags in hand and many shouts of “Banzai!” Eventually, a small grandfather-figure pops out onto the balcony to a renewed round of cheers from Japanese locals and a healthy dose of visiting foreigners. Only on this day and January 2nd (when the Emperor’s New Year’s Greeting is held) can you visit the inner palace ground and see members of the Imperial Family.
Even if you don’t have the chance to visit the Imperial Palace during this celebratory time, there is plenty to see and do. Built on top of what used to be Edo Castle by the Tokogawa Shoganate (which was the tallest castle ever constructed in Japan) and surrounded by beautiful grounds including some pretty fancy-looking moats, bridges and gardens; the Imperial Palace brings a slice of classical elegance to the otherwise crazy everyday goings on of the city itself. It’s as tranquil as if you were inside a bubble, the only reminder that you’re in Tokyo being the skyscrapers sticking up at different heights in the near-distance.
If you’re not sure to where to start and have a solid grasp of Japanese: book yourself onto a guided tour. There are offered year-round and take about 75 minutes. Advance reservations can be made in advance through the Imperial Household Agency (details below), but same-day registrations before the start of the tours are also possible at the Kikyomon Gate.
Don’t worry if the only Japanese you’ve learnt is only food/drink/Pokemon related, the Imperial Palace East Gardens are wonderful to walk around whatever the weather and are open on everyday except for Mondays, Fridays or special occasions. Here you can find the ruins of Edo Castle, dating back to the great fire in 1657 that destroyed the original structure. A Japanese-style garden now stands in the place of it’s secondary circle of defence, providing a place to relax and unwind.