The Thrilling Conclusion, Part I: Tokyo Imperial Palace Tour

We had a CRAZY last full day in Tokyo, and when you get finally get to the last paragraph of this installment 6 weeks from now, you won’t believe it all happened on the same day!

The only thing officially on the schedule for today was a tour of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, and this had been on it since the moment I got to the page in The Rough Guide to Tokyo that said it was not open to the public and could only be toured by appointment made online up to two months in advance. We got lucky (sorta) because the day we wanted to go had been excluded from the online calendar by mistake and no one had been able to book it yet. Since this was the only place in Tokyo I’d called that had no English speakers on staff, we got a friend who speaks Japanese to contact the Imperial Household Agency, explain about the calendar problem, and get them to open it up so we could book. One $24 phone call later, we had our reservation…

If you’re interested in booking a tour, you can click here:

In the morning we grabbed breakfast at the convenience store and walked from our hotel over to the Imperial Palace.

There was a large group gathered outside the gate, but it turned out we got to go to a much shorter line because they were part of a tour like the one we’d been on in Kyoto. In fact, we were completing a grand tour of Japanese palaces with this visit—first the seat of the Shogunate in Kyoto (that was the one with the nightingale floors), then the modern Imperial Palace in Kyoto (that was the one we took all the boring pictures of), and now the former site of the shogunate’s castle in Tokyo, which became the site of the Imperial castle when power was restored to the emperor in the 1860s and the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.

We stood in line and self-consciously ate our breakfast standing up. Really, where DO these people eat all this takeout food? Finally, we were once again lined up and marched through the gate by a group of officials.

They deposited us in a charmless concrete box of a building to await the hilariously stiff and formal pre-tour video. There were lockers for our stuff (¥300 with free ins and outs!), bathrooms and a tiny gift shop. Patrick and I picked up our English-language listening devices, which start working with the video and last for the whole tour.

LOVE the ancient computers—feels like we’re in a California public school!

If you go, pay attention during the video, cuz it’s the only time you’ll get to see inside any of the palace buildings. When they flashed some faded still photos of the inside of the main building, I realized that Epcot’s Mitsukoshi department store interior is modeled on THOSE, not on any of the Mitsukoshi branches.

So the tour itself mostly consists of being herded around the grounds in a huge pack by a guide who’s more like a bored security guard with a bullhorn than, say, an historian.

At each stop, he’d use the bullhorn to call out the number on the listening device and then stand there examining his fingernails while we dutifully listened to each clip. We shuffled here and there observing the low-slung 60s box that is the palace (including a subterranean parking lot that can hold up to 150 cars—yes, you read that right, 150 cars!) plus some older buildings that are only watch towers. So much of it was destroyed during the war that there’s not a lot of old stuff to see. But rest assured, what there was to see was exhaustively documented by us!

I love the fact that this “graffiti”—family symbols carved by the shogun thousands of years ago—is still here today. I guess I don’t get out of my 234-year-old country much!

More shuffling

Bad show!

This is… a watchtower… I think… maybe original, maybe built in the 50s. I didn’t retain much—sorry!

Some context for you…

This is the… uh… sorry guys, I don’t remember and may not ever have known… [Ed. — Kind MiceChat reader nish221 informs me that this is the Household Agency Building. So that’s where they answered our telephone call!]

Then the most exciting thing that happened on the whole tour happened—off in the distance we saw a carriage carrying an important person to visit the Imperial family!

Back to this place…

Shuffle, shuffle…

So this is the main part of the palace where the Imperial family holds events and meets with visitors, and this plaza is called Kokyo Gaien.

Trés Fifties!

Oh there must’ve been something significant about this… wish I could remember what…

This photo will give you an idea how the tour was conducted

Beneath this plaza lies parking for up to 150 cars!!!

This is the balcony from which the Emperor and his family wave to well-wishers on the two days per year that the palace is open to the public: January 2, and December 23—his “official” birthday, whatever that means. Maybe I can start having an official birthday too… I choose “today” to always be my Official Birthday!

“Hmmm… every day my Official Birthday…”

Beyond Kokyo Gaien is Nijubashi, which is the entrance to the inner grounds of the palace that is opened to all those well-wishers twice a year.

Hey, they’re stealing our shot!

Let’s play “Where’s Lurkyloo?”

Oh my goodness, this is going to be a long installment…

Uh-oh—when that guy parks, there will only be room left for 149 cars!

Former Privy Council Building, where the Emperor’s advisors hung out. (Thanks, nish221!)

One factoid I do remember from the tour is that the Emperor still raises silkworms like they did years ago, and he tends to them every day that he is in the palace. At least, I think it’s the Emperor—maybe it’s the Empress…. And were they silkworms or were they sea monkeys…? Hmmmm…

At the end of the tour they told us we could go back out the way we came or we could follow a guide over to the East Garden (Higashi Gyoen), which is open to the public. We figured we’d better see it all as long as we were there, so…

The East Garden was very pretty, but I wasn’t havin’ it. If you have ever parented a teenager, you will know Patrick’s exasperation as I trudged along with my lower lip stuck out, pining for one last trip to Disney. Finally, because he is a terrible parent, he gave in and said we could go back to Tokyo Disney. Hooray!!! I perked up instantly, and about 30 seconds later we were sprinting out this gate…

“This way to Tokyo Disney! No, *this* way… I know I don’t have an arm—can’t you read my arrow?”

We high-tailed to Tokyo Station, which was still under wraps…

…we practically glided down The Staircase of Despair between the subway and the Keiyo Line…

… But as we sprinted through the Tunnel of Doom, we heard an announcement over the loudspeakers that Tokyo Disneyland had closed its gates to new visitors due to high crowds!

We kept running down the corridor as we tried to decide what to do. We didn’t hear anything specifically about Tokyo DisneySea, so we decided to keep going and just hope we could get in.

DID we make it to Tokyo DisneySea?! WAS the park still open?!! And WILL we ever know what a Cheesecake Chimichanga is?!!! CLICK HERE!

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4 Responses
  • Wibi
    March 23, 2015

    Been looking for this! So you weren’t allowed inside the palace at all?

    • Carrie
      March 23, 2015

      Correct, but you do get to see the inner palace grounds, which are usually only open to the public twice a year.

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