Royal Rooms – Japanese Imperial Palace

Our guest blogger Marina has given us a wonderful view into the world of the Japanese royals and Imperial Palace. Enjoy!

Ohayou!”- Good Morning!

The floating torii (gate) of the Itsukushima Shrine


Welcome to a three-part series on the Imperial Palace of Japan. The green island of tranquility, surrounded by a moat, within the densest populated metropolitan area in the world, Tokyo, Japan. Often thought of as a singular building, the Imperial Palace is instead multiple buildings, a series of parklands and administrative spaces surrounded by a moat. Throughout a series of posts we look at the largest and most impressive building, the Kyῡden, known as The Imperial Palace. We will also look at other palaces, other Imperial Areas and get to know a few things about the Imperial Palace Grounds.

To start with definitions: The Kyῡden is the large, green-roofed structure where the Emperor and Empress greet dignitaries, host banquets, have enthronements, and wave from the balcony on New Years’. Yet, no one lives in the Palace.  Huh?

 We will chat about the following when we get there: why does it look like it does? It is so quite different from the last Japanese castle and most of our European Palaces that might be more familiar.  

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New Year’s Greeting Crowd at the Imperial Palace, looking toward the balcony on the Chowa- DenReception Hall

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Winter Scene around the perimeter of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Fushmi Edo Guard Tower in the background with the Imperial Palace Main Gate Iron Bridge, with the Seimon Ishibashi Bridge (stone) in the foreground

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Aerial overview of the Imperial Palace Grounds 


Ikimashou! – Let’s go!

Back in time, but not too far –

Our story could be volumes, but we will start in 1945, at the beginning of the destruction, division, and rebuilding of the Imperial Palace into what we recognize today. 

On May 25, 1945, Allied forces air bombed Tokyo. The bombs destroyed what was known as the Imperial Castle of Japan, a Meiji Period Castle built on an Edo Period Castle.

The aftermath of World War II saw the creation of the “Modern” Imperial Family (much reduced), a “Different” Imperial Wealth (much reduced / less influential), and a “New” Japan – a Japan more familiar to those of us outside of Japan.

Deep Dive Suggestion – Under the Allied Forces, the Japanese government established a new constitution.

Those impacts, which we are not going into- are fascinating to understand the effect changes had in and outside of Japan.

Modern Imperial Family

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From L to R, January 1961 Empress Nagako, Crown Prince Akihito (Emperor Emeritus), Crown Princess Michiko (Empress Emerita), Prince Hiro (Now Emperor Naruhito), Emperor Hirohito (Showa), Prince Hitachi (brother of Crown Prince Akihito) 

Japan Today

Now known as the “The Land of the Rising Sun- Home of the Chrysanthemum Throne- Nihon- Nippon”

  • Japan spans an archipelago of over 6,800 islands covering around 146,000 square miles. Japan is slightly larger in area than the US State of Montana.
  • The estimated population of Japan in 2020 is 125 million, a population roughly 1/3 of the United States.  The Japanese population lives on about 33% of the land due to geographic and geological constraints, leaving 67% of the land area unhabitable. The land is unbuildable, rather than unused, and sections of unbuilt land remain as natural preserves.
  • Japan is the home to the oldest continual Monarchy, dating back to the 3rd – 6th centuries AD.

Now you know why we had to pick a spot to start the story!

We are moving on!

Tokyo Today

  • Tokyo has approximately 14 million people living in 240 square miles. In comparison, New York City comprises less than 8.5 million people in 302 square miles.
  • Dense. Small. Lots of People. Tokyo is a very urban city. Vibrant.
  • At left, Modern Day Tokyo, Akihabara, “Electric Town”
  • Tokyo has been the home of the Emperor since 1869. Prior, the Imperial Seat was in Kyoto. There are two Japanese Imperial Palaces maintained, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto.
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace, From Forecourt into Main Building

Imperial Household Agency (IHA)

  • The IHA is a Japanese government agency with a history dating back to 701. The current Government organization of Japan (since the Governmental reorganization of 2001) place the IHA under the Cabinet Office.
  • The Cabinet Office is responsible for handling the day-to-day affairs of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister of Japan formally heads the Cabinet Office. 
  • The Imperial Household Agency manages all aspects of the Chrysanthemum Throne. The IHA work is on behalf of the people of Japan.
  • At left is the Sakashita Gate, an Edo Era Gate at Moat, Imperial Household Agency building to the right / above water line.

The Imperial Household Agency was charged with rebuilding the Imperial Palace on the site of the old Edo Castle. They built a new series of buildings for Imperial Functions, The Kyῡden. It took about 20 years to do it.

Below, the Imperial Palace Tokyo, under construction around 1966.

Deep Dive Suggestion- The Edo Castle, Impressive!

Fun Fact- Rebuilding a Japanese residential home in 30 years or less is standard practice.

Kokyo (Imperial Palace), Tokyo

The moated Palace area is approximately 280 acres divided into four main parts. For comparison, 280 acres is a little bit more than ½ the size of the country Monaco, with a population of 39,000. Let’s let that sink in for a minute. Remember, Tokyo is a super-dense, highly populated area.

We are moving on!

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Ok. Next.

A story told about the property from the 1980s says the Imperial Palace would have a higher value than all the real estate in California. That is the 80’s bubble for you!  Needless to say; however, you calculate the deal, the property is worth a considerable national, fiscal, and cultural significance to Japan.

In current market rates, the value rates in US dollars range from $850 Billion up to $5 Trillion. The valuation is for the land alone, not including any buildings, artifacts, or landscape.

A literal fortune.

The IHA states that the Imperial Palace compound ownership belongs to Japan. At the same time, the Imperial Family maintains the Shrines’ Ownership (Three Palace Sanctuaries).

The Four Areas of the Imperial Palace

Blue: Imperial Palace Grouns, Green: Kokyo Gaien National Garden, Red: The Imperial Palace East Gardens, Orange: The Kitanomaru Park

We are getting deeper into this – keep reading : ).

The Blue Area – The Imperial Palace Grounds This area is exclusively private. Guided exterior-only tours are available on an application basis only. The public has open access until two times a year: the New Year’s Speech and the Emperor’s Birthday.

A view of the Fujimi Yagura Turret in the East Palace Gardens

The Green Area – Kokyo Gaien National Garden The area is open year-round, with local hours. It is a public garden located in the south-east portion of the Imperial Palace Grounds. Most public and official guests enter through this section of the grounds to enter the Palace.

A view of the Kokyo Gaien National Garden, facing to the east

The Red Area – The Imperial Palace East Gardens The area is open to the public on a limited schedule, including gardens, historical structures, administrative offices, guard facilities, and cultural spaces.

An ancient Tea House in the Imperial East Gardens, during the Azealia Blooming season

The Orange Area- The Kitanomaru Park This is a national park that is open year-round, with local hours. It contains a beautiful public garden, with a sports and events arena, public walkways, and museums.

Moat viewing the Kitanomaru Park during Cherry Blossom season

In our next post, we will help you figure out all the interior spaces inside the Kyūden. In our last post, we will review the residential palaces and the sacred spaces. Enjoy! Tanoshī