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Imperial Palace East Gardens – an urban oasis

The Imperial Palace East Gardens is an urban oasis in the middle of Tokyo.  Of course, it gets that name because the Emperor lives next door!  It provides a quiet space to relax for anyone who needs a break in this busy city.  It is a fantastic place to visit, not only because it is beautiful, but it also has some great views and history!

ginkgo tree, 100-man guardhouse and Marunouchi skyscrapers in autumn
The 100-man guardhouse in autumn.

The gardens used to be within the palace grounds.  But, they became a public park in the 1960s.  It has three distinct parts, the main entrance area, a large lawn, and a lower garden. Unfortunately, few of the original buildings remain.

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace lawn

Near the main entrance is the Museum of the Imperial Collections.    It showcases treasures that have come down through the ages.  They change several times throughout the year. While it is small, it is currently being enlarged.  Three guardhouses from the shoguns’ time are in the same area.  If you need a break, there is a kiosk there too.


Past the guardhouses and up the hill is the second area, the lawn.  The lawn is the central area of the East Gardens.  Here are the remains of the donjon of Edo castle.   Walk to the top, and you will enjoy amazing views of the Marunouchi district’s skyscrapers. In a way, it reminds me of the view from the English Traditional Garden at Shinjuku Gyoen.  With the colorful Tokagakudo concert hall, the whole area is great for photos. If you need a place to relax, this is it.

Tokagakudo concert hall with Marunouchi skyscrapers behind
The Tokagakudo concert hall with Marunouchi skyscrapers behind.

Along the southern paths in this area is the site of Matsu-no-Oroka (the Great Pine Corridor).  The Matsu-no-Oroka was a corridor within the castle.  It was 50 meters long and covered in pine tree motifs.  Daimyo Asano’s attack on Kira Yoshinaka in 1701 took place there.  That event began the 47 Ronin story. Unfortunately, all that remains is a marker.  There is a plaque too that gives the essential information.

People photographing Ninomaru Japanese Iris garden

The third area is the Ninomaru.  It holds a beautiful garden, pond, and trees from every Japan’s prefectures.  There is also a beautiful old teahouse, the  Suwana-no-chaya.  Unfortunately, it isn’t open to the public.  This area is at the bottom of a hill, surrounded by walls and trees, has a secluded feeling.  It is the heart of the East Gardens.  When flowers are in bloom here, it is colorful.

A brief history of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

During the post-war period, the government decided to create a new garden in Tokyo.  The side would be the eastern part of the Imperial Palace.  Construction started in 1964 and was completed in September 1968.  It opened to the public on October 1, 1968.  In 2019, the gardens attracted more than three million people.

Why do photographers like the East Gardens?

They like them because they are such a good place for photography.  There is so much there to make anyone with a camera happy.  It’s so hard to make a definitive list, as there is so much to see.  But, here are some of my favorites:

  • City views from the donjon remains.  You can get great panoramic photos that include the lawn and Marunouchi skyscrapers
  • Flowers for (almost) every season (including Japanese Irises)
  • Fujimi Tower (it’s fenced off, so you can only see it from the rear)
  • Fujimi defense house
  • Marker for Matsu-no-Oroka and 47 ronin story
  • Observation deck (behind the souvenir shop – it’s on the map)
Suwa-no-cha-ya teahouse
The Suwa-no-cha-ya teahouse.

Notes

  • The Fujimi defense house isn’t that interesting, BUT you can go inside.  Through the barred windows, you can get a restricted view of Inui-Dori (Inui Street) in the palace.  The street is occasionally open to the public in spring and autumn.
  • The observation deck behind the souvenir shop is not that great.  Yes, you can get some nice shots of the Marunouchi area over the trees that look nice.  But you can’t see much of the ground (i.e., too many trees!).
  • Tripods are not allowed.
100-man guardhouse
The 100-man guardhouse.

When is the best time to go?

Spring, summer, and autumn are all great, with many different flowers.  To be honest, winter is a little bland as the gardens don’t have much of interest in that season.

I suggest early summer. The lawn area has Satsuki Azalea bloom then, and they decorate some areas of the lawn. And in the Ninomaru, there will be more of them and Japanese irises. It is such a colorful place.

Japanese Iris, pond and bridge

Where are the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace?

They are next to the Imperial Palace. There are three other gates through which you can enter.  One is the Ōte (the closest to Tokyo station), and the others are Hirakawa and Kitahanebashi.  It is a fifteen-minute walk from Tokyo Station. Many subway stations are nearby. Here is a Google map:

East Gardens Opening hours

From March 1 to April 14

  • 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (entry up to 4:00 p.m.)
  • From April 15 to the end of August
  • 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (entry up to 4:30 p.m.)

From September 1 to the end of October

  • 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (entry up to 4:00 p.m.)
  • From November 1 to the end of February
  • 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (entry up to 3:30 p.m.)

It is also closed:

1)  Every Monday and Friday.  It is open on National Holidays except for the Emperor’s Birthday, December 23.

2)  If a national holiday is on a Monday, the Garden will close the next day, Tuesday.

3)  Over the New Year period, from December 28 to January 12.

4)  When deemed necessary to close the Garden due to Imperial Court functions.

Admission costs

None, but there is a temperature and bag check.

Imperial Palace East Gardens Satsuki azaleas

Office phone number

03 3213 1111

Other photo spots in the area

Wrapping up

The Imperial Palace East Gardens are gorgeous.  You could spend several hours there with a camera.  And once you finish, many other places are within easy walking distance.  

The Imperial Household Agency is responsible for the gardens. You can see its website here. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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