The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is huge. It takes up most of the area of Chiyoda, which, as I recall, is about the middle of Tokyo.
Getting to the Imperial Gardens isn't easy, since it's a lengthy walk from the nearest subway stop. Furthermore, they aren't open on normal days. The first day I walked there, I got there and found they were closed.
Still saw some birds in the moat on the outside, though:
Anyway, the next day I went there with two friends, and we spent the morning walking around the Imperial Palace.
It turns out that they have a phone app that you can download and it will serve as your personal tour guide. It knows your location, so when you get near something important, it will send you a notification and you can listen to what the tour tells you.
I have that app on my phone right now, so any information you see here, assume it comes from that app unless I say otherwise.
During the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Shoguns (highest ranking military lord) lived in the castle, and they were the ones who built most of it. After the Shogunate disbanded, Emperor Meiji moved in. He renamed the city from Edo to Tokyo, and made the Edo Palace the Imperial Palace.
There used to be a huge castle, but it was destroyed. Now in its place are the East Gardens, which is where we wandered around.
Unfortunately, you can't tour all of the Imperial Palace. The only parts that are normally open to the public are the East Gardens, but those alone could take all day if you were so inclined.
The gardens were originally built without disrupting the natural characteristics of the ground. The slopes, gullies, ponds, etc., are all natural with improvements to make them more picturesque.
First, we entered through the Ote-mon Gate, which is actually two gates. The first gate, shown below, is very small:
After the first gate, there is a picturesque little square inside. The second gate is to your right as you go in:
|Sigh... can't escape the skyscrapers|
The second gate being to the right meant that if an army got through the first gate by charging, they lost all the momentum of their charge when they had to turn right. Furthermore, I don't think the square is big enough to get more momentum for another charge.
On top of the second gate is a building where defenders could shoot down on invaders.
The second gate was destroyed in an air raid (get used to seeing that), but it was rebuilt after.
|Inside the Ote-mon Gate|
This next building is inside yet another gate. It's called the Doshin-bansho, and it roughly means a guardhouse. Lower-ranking Samurai (Doshin) would say in here to help protect the gate.
After the Doshin-bansho, we saw some of these impressive stone walls (for more gates):
|I sincerely wonder how they were able to move rocks that large.|
This next building is the Hyaku-nin-bansho, a guardhouse for higher-ranking Samurai. It is in between two gates, and the inner gate leads to the main part of the castle. It goes from north to south, and there were four groups of Samurai, 120 each, that took turns guarding the palace 24 hours a day.
|The gate that goes to the Hon-maru, the heart of the castle|
|Don't remember what this is, but it's huge!|
|Pretty pine trees! Inside the Hon-maru now.|
Once we were inside the gardens, we spent a lot of time wandering around and looking at absolutely beautiful gardening.
|So many trees! There really isn't a lush forest like this in Shenyang, so I was deliriously happy.|
I'm going to just have a bunch of pictures of the lovely gardens now, because they're beautiful and don't need too much explanation. (Also because I'd like my readers to get some surprises whenever they get there!)
Those pictures were all in the lower levels of the gardens. After seeing these, we went up to the higher levels of the gardens.
First, we had to go up the Shiomi-zka, a slope that you could supposedly see part of Tokyo Bay from. This slope goes up from the Hon-maru (the main part of the gardens) tot he Ninomaru (the second compound).
|This is the Hakucho-bori Moat, the only moat still inside the palace. There used to be many inside the palace!|
|Looking down the Shiomi-zaka|
This next building is the Fujimi-yagura. The name means "Fuji-viewing tower", since you could see Fuji from this tower before the high-rises were all built. (To me, this tower just epitomizes Tokyo. Once upon a time, you could see Fuji from a structure rich in history, and now you can't because of recent progress. Of course, given how recently Japan was all but destroyed in World War II, I don't think anyone is going to be keen to take down those signs of extreme growth and vastly-improved quality of life.)
|This is, after all, the Land of the Rising Sun. I had to get a picture with sun flare!|
|This is the tea gardens! Tea was from China first, and brought to Japan more than 1,000 years ago. I've been told that Japanese tea culture is a rival to Chinese tea culture (although my teahouse friend from China would probably disagree!)|
The next pictures are all from inside the Fujimi-tamon Defense House. Did anyone notice the word "Fuji" in the name? That indicates that, once upon a time, people inside the house could see Fuji from the windows.
Notice anything interesting about these pictures? Specifically, on the floor?
They require visitors to take off their shoes inside.
|This used to be a moat. Defenders could fire arrows or bullets through the slits.|
|This is the Ishi-muro, which means "stone room". No one knows what it's for!|
|This is the Bamboo Garden|
|This is part of the Cherry Blossom Island (because you can't go to Japan without seeing some cherry trees). It's the wrong season for the blossoms, obviously. There are about 30 types of cherries in the gardens!|
The last is the foundation of the Tenshu-dai, which used to be the largest tower in the palace. Unfortunately, it was burned down in a fire in 1657, and it was never rebuilt.
|That short building in the foreground is the music house.|
And that was a wrap! We walked through a few more gardens on the way out, but that was the end of our tour of the palace. It's a beautiful place with so much nature and artistry that I would happily go back! Definitely a must-see in Tokyo.
|The outer moat|
|Walking away from the palace|