Royal Rooms – Japanese Imperial Palace Kyūden

Ohayou!”- Good Morning!

Today we will  go on a brief tour inside the Imperial Palace. There is some new language and potentially new organizations you may not be familiar with. 

 Warning: It is a long one – but I do hope you will get your cuppa and settle in!

The Palace Group – Quick Refresher

The Imperial Palace Grounds, Tokyo, Japan are in the Blue Zone. Check out the prior post to acquaint yourself with all four areas of the Imperial Palace Tokyo. A little background info is always helpful to me!

A Focus on the Imperial Palace Grounds (Blue Zone)

Today we will look at the Imperial Palace Grounds. This is an area of 73 acres of undivided land, held for the Emperor of Japan’s exclusive use. The Emperor is the symbol of the State and the Unity of the People of Japan, as defined by Japan’s Constitution. To support that symbol the areas and buildings are part of this manifestation of the persona. 

The Imperial Palace is an oasis in the center of modern-day Tokyo. From the south to the north.

The Imperial Palace Grounds include:

  • The Kyῡden (Our focus today)
  • Three Palace Sanctuaries- A series of Shinto sanctuaries. Imperial religious ceremonies, including wedding and enthronement, are performed at the site.
  • The Fukiage Palace- The Residence of the Emperor.  Renovations are taking place for the New Emperor (as of 2020). The Emperor currently lives in Akasaka Estate, about 10 minutes away by car, until the Fukiage Palace is ready. Most of the Imperial family lives on the Akasaka Estate. 
  • The Imperial Household Agency (IHA) – The administrative offices of the Japanese Government Agency. This building includes function spaces for the Emperor as well as medical facilities for the entire Imperial Family.
  • Fukiage Ōmiya Palace – The Former Home of Empress Kōjun (the current Emperor’s deceased Grandmother)
  • The Fukiage Gardens- The Gardens Surrounding the Residential Palaces, most undeveloped land has been allowed to return to a natural state, including a former golf course.
  • Private Support Spaces

In this post, we will focus only on the layout and interior spaces of Kyūden, the main ceremonial structure of the empire.

The Kyūden – and – Here – We – Are!

The new palace building encompasses a portion of the foundations of the former Edo Castle. The modern Kyūden design is for various imperial court functions, receptions, support spaces, and administration areas. The new Palace replaced the destroyed Meiji Era Kyūden in a much more modest footprint. There is no eclectic voice or reference to European styles used, the interior and the exterior coordinate as an architectural language.

It was built during the 1960s and first used in April 1969, under Emperor Showa. The Imperial Palace buildings are in a modernist style with explicit Japanese architectural references such as the large, gabled, hipped roof, columns, and beams. The building was designed and constructed by the Takenaka Corporation, one of the significant architectural and construction companies based in Japan.

There can be an honest debate about the aesthetics and the intrinsic value of the building.  As that debate rages on, it is essential to recognize a few critical points. The organization of spaces, the design details, and the slightly austere use of luxurious and semi-precious materials reflect traditional Japanese building traditions.  The intent and desire to have a uniquely Japanese building with modern conveniences was of critical importance. A significant number of materials come from within Japan, including woods, stones, and delicate wall fabrics. To express the intrinsic beauty of Japanese architecture and materials was intentional. Based on the tatami measure, a traditional measurement unit in Japan, the intention behind these ideals starts to become clearer. Also of note, the  proportions and general placement of spaces reflect those of the ancient Imperial Palace in Kyoto and the prior Tokyo Kyuden destroyed in 1945.

A view of the courtyard from the Chōwa-Den Reception Hall toward the Seiden State Hall during the Enthronement of 2019. The Kairo is on the left

Seven wings surround a courtyard as the center. The Seiden (The State Room is in this wing), the main building, is located at the rear/ midpoint of the complex, making entering a procession through a series of grand spaces, stairs, and corridors. Traditionally, a guest procession would have been through the exterior, but this is all done through interior spaces. A Japanese personality is conveyed and remains accommodating to all visitors from many cultures. You will notice the apparent absence of tatami mats throughout the Palace. Guests and visitors do not remove their shoes, as this is not a home. Tatami mats are delicate to use, as shoes and slippers are destructive to them and are traditionally a “residential” item. Modern conveniences like central air conditioning, electricity (and running water too!), concealed and recessed lighting, and the all-important to “us” are AV Rooms and IT support spaces.  Food preparations are done in a traditional Japanese style, using sacred methods and materials. Yet, formal state banquets and events are served in the Western Style using standard tables and chairs rather than seated on the floor or lower-level furnishings.

The Kyῡden has an area of 260,200 SF and is three stories, two stories above ground and one level below. The ‘average’ Japanese home ranges from 980 square feet (Tokyo) to 1,920 square feet in rural areas as a point of reference. The Kyῡden is modest compared to Buckingham Palace that comes in at 828,820 SF.

The seven halls (buildings) make up the Kyūden and surround the Tyutei (courtyard):
1. Chōwa-Den – Reception Hall 
2. Kairo
3. Chōwa-Den – Reception Hall 
4. Hōumei- Den –  State Banquet Hall
5. Rensui Dining Room
6. Seiden State Hall
7. Omote-gazasyo

1 Chōwa-Den Reception Hall 

The Reception Hall is the most significant building in the complex by size.

The reception hall is also the most frequently seen building, as it is where the Emperor stands on the balcony overlooking the totei (forecourt) on New Years’ and His Birthday. There are several drawing rooms, Entrance Halls, and Entrance Lobbies that guests use during their visits. 

The picture shows the Chowa-Den Reception Hall from the Toutei (front plaza). Notice the projection of the balcony from the façade of the building.

A. Minami-kurumayose (South Porch)

Parts of the Chōwa-Den Reception Hall, in order from South to North:

A.     Minami-kurumayose (South Porch)
B.     Minami-damari (South Entrance Hall)
C.     Nami-no-Ma (Lobby)
D.     Matsukaze-no-Ma (Drawing Room)
E.     Shunju-no-Ma (Grand Hall)
F.     Shakkyo-no-Ma (Drawing Room)
G.    Kita-no-Ma (Lobby)
H.     Kita-damari (North Entrance Hall)
J.      Kita-kurumayose (North Porch)

B. Minami-damari (South Entrance Hall)

The Minami-Damari is the lobby of the South Porch. Most recently viewed, the hall was used during the enthronement when many European Royals entered the Imperial Palace through this entrance.  Japanese granites, marbles, along with Pine Woods, decorate the interior. The lobby houses limited furnishings and two unique purple-hued crystal chandeliers. The two-story volume has two parts, the main lower lounge and the upper Nami-no-Ma.

The Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita in the Balcony Nami-no- Ma above the South Entrance Lobb

C. Nami-no-Ma (Lobby)

Dawn Tide Getty Images

An upper lobby houses a large painting titled “Dawn Tide” (Asaake no Ushio). The design in this area is identical in design with the Minami-damari (the lower lobby).

E. Shunju-no-Ma (Grand Hall)

The hall name means The Hall of Spring and Autumn, and the walls reflect this name with tapestries of Pine Trees in a spring haze and an Autumn fog. The carpet reflects a stylized pattern of clouds. Japanese Cedar and Japanese Pine finish out this second largest room of the Imperial Palace.

The Shunju-no-Ma, Grand Hall Empty, central courtyard on the right

D. & F. Shakkyo-no-Ma and Masukaze-no-Ma (Drawing Rooms) 

Smaller receiving rooms finished with carpet, Japanese woods, and significant artwork by prominent Japanese artists. 

H. Kita-Damari (North Entrance Hall) 

The Kita-Damari is the north lobby of the Chowa-Den. The Kita Damari acts as an equally important reception lobby for visitors. Though aesthetically identical to the South Entrance Hall, including a distinctive purple chandelier, one enters this hall by walking up a grand stair from the exterior.

TOKYO, JAPAN – APRIL 18: Kitadamari is seen at the Imperial Palace on April 18, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

G. Kita-no-Ma (Lobby)

An upper lobby to the main lower lobby similar to the Nami-no-Ma in the South Lobby.

K. Kita-Kurumayose (North Porch) and Matsu-no-Tou

The Kita-Kurumayose is an entrance most used by domestic dignitaries to enter the Imperial Palace. The Matsu-no-Tou is a lighting tower built to represent a young pine tree. Donations of the Japanese people paid for the construction of the Matsu-no-Tou. 

The North Porch with the lightning tower to the left of the door,

2. Kairo (Corridor)

A large corridor connects the Reception Hall to the Chigusa No Ma and The Chidori No Ma.

Native woods and traditional Japanese architectural details adorn the hallway. The artwork changes to set the tone and the mood of each of the annual seasons.

3. Chigusa-no-Ma and Chidori-no-Ma Drawing Rooms

A view of Chigusa-no-Ma and Chidoro-no-Ma Drawing Rooms

The Emperor and Empress use these rooms together for small groups, including tea. The materials coordinate with the rest of the Palace using native pine and cedar woods and traditional and modern artwork. Views out to the Imperial Gardens are an essential aspect of the room, connecting nature to the user.

4. Hōumei- Den State Banquet Hall

The State Banquet Hall includes the main banquet hall, a series of drawing rooms, and corridors.

This hall is the largest single room in the Imperial Palace. A Japanese Court Banquet is the basis of the naming of the room. Murals depicting clouds cover the walls, and a carpet of stylized Japanese grass covers the floor.

5. Rensui Dining Room

This wing is a dining room used for smaller functions.  

A divisible room into two, native Japanese Pine Woods are featured, along with design elements that are modeled after the Katsura Imperial Villa. The dining room has views over a walled garden.

6. Seiden State Hall

Seiden State Hall is composed of three parts, The State Room and two audience rooms, Ume-No-Ma, and Take-No-Ma

The State Room, a.k.a. Matsu-no-Ma, a.k.a. Pine Room

The Pine Room is the chamber where the Emperor greets guests, performs investitures, and where the enthronement took place in 2019. This room is the only room in the Palace with wood floors, these being Zelkova wood, and has walls finished in a fabric embellished with young pine leaf patterns. The room has a series of broadcast booths, often seen in angled photos as black glass. One defense of the room- though often seen as “gymnasium-like” or “cold” or “plain,” I offer up that this room is essentially Japanese. The details (note the extreme widths of the wood plank floors, the inlaid bronze strapping on the ebonized beams and pillars, the delicate use of fabric, that are like a whisper. It is not a room too shocking or “impressive”; it is a room to be graced in, a room to capture the imagination of this fascinating society and culture. Never see bland- imagine if these elements were outside, how inspired they would be.

Ume-no-Ma (Audience Room) and Take-no-Ma (Audience Room)

Ume-no-Ma (Audience Room) and the Take-no-Ma (Audience Room) are the two rooms that flank each side of the State Room. These rooms are similar in décor but not identical. Carpeted floors, upholstered walls, and cypress are the main finishing elements. Custom hardware of bronze and semi-precious materials was handcrafted for the doors.

The Take-no-Ma with Emperor Emeritus and German Chancellor Merkel (and a translator)

7. Omote-gazasyo

The Emperor’s work office, an inner private sanctum. There is a separate West Porch entry to this area of the compounds. Photos of this space are almost non-existent.  My imagination says that it looks like the rest of the Palace. Maybe yellow? As the Emperor will work and study here, I imagine a peaceful retreat filled with incredible Japanese details along with beautiful artwork and flowers.

There you have it! So much information! It can be confusing- so please take a while to absorb. It is fascinating how each culture treats hospitality and is so successful in its own unique ways.

Next time- the few buildings in the Royal Palace Grounds, and an overview of The Imperial Akasaka Estate- Until then!