The Elusive Tokyo Imperial Palace
As I mentioned in a previous post, there are few tourist sights to see in Tokyo, most of the old-school Japanese look can be found in Kyoto. However, I was determined to see what there was! The Imperial Palace is featured as a must-see in every guide book. The word ‘palace’ basically makes my eyes turn into giant hearts and pop out of my head, cartoon-style, so I was definitely interested in hitting it up during my stay. The verdict? Much unlike the Palace of Versailles, the Imperial Palace is skippable in your next trip to Tokyo.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the actual residence of the Japanese Emperor and the imperial family, and they do live there even today. The grounds are extremely large and overwhelming, and the maps they provide you with are very confusing. Much of the area is currently under construction, which could be a large factor in why I wasn’t very impressed. Some of the Japanese essence is lost amongst the bulldozers and scaffolding. What is also unusual about the Palace is that it is smack in the middle of Maranouchi, a business district of Tokyo. Once you’re done with the Palace, there is not much else in the area, sort of like a castle in the middle of the financial district of Manhattan. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, and nowhere to eat when you’re done!
I would consider the Imperial Palace to be more of a garden sort of sight, because to be completely honest with you, you cannot even get near the actual palace residency. While I knew you could not go INSIDE the palace, I did not realize that you couldn’t even get NEAR IT, until I wandered around for hours trying to find it.The grounds are seriously gigantic, and surrounded by more than one moat, it takes a hella long time to get from one end of the other, and when you are lost and trying to find the palace, this can be frustrating!
This photo featured above is THE photo used in every single Tokyo Guidebook you are going to find. I realize now that this is because that specific view is the only place you will actually be able to see even a fraction of the actual palace. We looked around for hours trying to find this bridge, and we never found it. The ground go on for miles, with so many different exits and bridges, we never made it! It was so frustrating! Even if we did make it there, I’m not sure taking the subway all the way to the Palace, walking around all day, and only being able to see the actual Palace from this specific point would be worth it.
I guess some people may be impressed with the grounds, and it could potentially soothe your disappointment for not seeing the Palace, but it certainly doesn’t serve as a consolation prize in March. None of the flowers are really in bloom, and as I mentioned, I think they seize that opportunity to perform construction. Boo.
There is one small path leading up a giant hill towards the grounds that is lined with cherry blossoms. While the true cherry blossom season is late March-mid April, a few branches were beginning to bud. Plum blossoms that bear a strong resemblance to cherry blossoms, were blooming though, and that was nice.
Amidst the few cherry blossoms that were blooming, we found some very friendly Japanese girls who were dressed in formal Japanese kimonos. My understanding is that Japanese women of wealth, or women going to formal occasions like weddings, will dress in this traditional garb, and they are not the same as geishas.Either way I was thrilled to take a picture with them, and oddly enough, they were just excited to get a photo with me, as well! I would say this photo is worth the price of walking around the Imperial Palace grounds in the cold, looking for a palace we were never to find.
If you only have a few short days in Tokyo-skip the Palace. You’re not missing much!