Tokyo’s Imperial Palace was the number 1 must see in our guide book and we decided it was the first thing to see on arrival in Japan. Consequently, we hadn’t done as much reading as we should have and were therefore somewhat underwhelmed.
We expected to see something akin to Buckingham Palace, and thought that even if we couldn’t get into the interior, it would still be spectacular from the outside.
However, we couldn’t even see it from the outside as the public are only allowed access to the palace grounds twice a year on 2 January and 23 December. A guide later told us that on these two days, it’s mobbed with local people waving the Japanese flag.
What we were able to see was the East Garden. On the outside was the Wadakura Fountain Park, built to commemorate the wedding of the current Emperor and Empress and refurbished in 1995. It was OK but not stunning.
We crossed a bridge over a wide moat, and entered through a tall, wide wooden Ote-mon gate, erected in 1457. We passed a number of pretty impressive looking guard houses and were studying a map of the gardens, when a local man approached us and suggested we head to Fujimi-yagura, also called the Mt. Fuji viewing tower, for stunning views. We climbed up a fairly steep path lined by impressive high walls created by huge stones in a patchwork effect and saw orange trees under plastic hoods. We eventually arrived and found a tower surrounded by barriers to allow renovation work. The views from the ground were pretty barren and whilst some trees were just coming in to blossom (to be honest we weren’t sure whether they were plum or cherry), the grass was dry and brown.
Toilets were plentiful but there was no cafe on site, although we did manage to find a couple nearby. A small shop, discovered on our way out, had a limited supply of books and leaflets and there was a museum which we didn’t venture into.
To be fair, our visit was on a cold February morning, just having coming off a 12 hour flight. Perhaps in different weather and with more realistic expectations, it may have been a different story. However for those tired of Tokyo’s hustle and bustle, it must provide a calm and peaceful area for a stroll.
There is no charge to enter, although you have to take a plastic ticket which you have to hand back in when you leave.