The Imperial Palace free tour is great for photographers

Fujimi Keep
Fujimi Keep,

I love the Imperial Palace free tour. Well, you can get inside for his birthday and New Year’s Greetings, but those events don’t let you look around.  If you are a Japanese history or royalty fan, you’ll want something more, won’t you? With a guide to lead you, you’ll see and learn much.

How many times have I done it? At last count, it was six. I took the photos for this article in June 2023. I had a good time again. After arriving a little before noon, I was shocked. The line already had about 100 people!  

A guide talking to a group
My guide talking about Chowaden Hall.

After receiving our application forms, we finally entered at 1:20 to go to the reception area. It didn’t have much, just benches and a gift shop. Then it was briefing time that touched upon what we would see. It also covered the dos and don’ts. We finally started the tour at 1:30.

Imperial Household Agency building
The Imperial Household Agency building.

The Imperial Palace Free Tour isn’t physically challenging at all. It takes about one hour and fifteen minutes. You’ll cover a distance of about two kilometers over mostly flat ground and a few very gentle slopes.

Imperial Palace tour group walking past Chowaden Hall
A tour group walking past Chowaden Hall.

Our guide was informative. She told us about the places we walked past and some of their history. Some of the things we saw included:

  • Kikyo-mon (Chinese Bellflower) Gate
  • Fujimi and Fushimi Keeps
  • Imperial Household Agency Building
  • Someikan (Visitors’ House)
  • Chowaden Hall
  • Megane (eyeglasses) and Niju bridges
  • Yamashita-dori

Photography during the Imperial Palace Free Tour

Taking pictures during the tour is no problem. Several years ago, it was very different. If you dropped behind the group to snap a photo, guards told you to keep moving. In 2023, I stopped once or twice but received no warnings. That was nice.

Imperial Palace eyeglasses bridge
Eyeglasses bridge.

Do you need to book for the tour?

No, you don’t. You can turn up on the day, but there is a limit of 140 people for non-registered and 100 online registrations.

When are the Imperial Palace Free Tours held?

  • Twice a day, morning (from 10 am) and afternoon (from 1:30 pm)
  • There are no tours on Sunday and Monday.
  • Sometimes palace events/weather can cause cancellations.
  • To avoid disappointment, check the schedule before you go.

Do you need to speak Japanese for the tour?

No, you don’t. There are English-speaking guides. I’ve also seen staff who speak Chinese, French, and Spanish. You can even download a smartphone app. It also gives information about the palace grounds and places.

Imperial Palace Fushimi Keep
Fushimi Keep.

Special notes about the Imperial Palace Free Tour

  • If you are going to go unregistered, get there early. On my last tour, I saw some people turned away.
  • In summer, keep hydrated because it can get hot. You’ll need to join lines, and there is no shade. Take water, a hot and even an umbrella to protect you from the sun.
  • No one will hassle you about taking photos. But the guides keep the walking pace fairly high. You’ll need to make choices if you want to hear what they say.
  • Don’t take a tripod.

Wrapping up

The Imperial Palace Free Tour is awesome. History and royalty lovers will love it. They’ll revel in getting inside the palace and seeing what is there. Unfortunately, that won’t include the Emperor or any family members. Most of the people you’ll encounter are everyday employees. But you might see something a little unusual. On one tour, I saw horses and buggies out training for an upcoming event. 

So, that is it. The tour is for people who want to see inside the Imperial Palace. It’s a pity it doesn’t enter any of the buildings. That’s okay. I still recommend it. You can see the official website here.

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