A few blocks from Tokyo Station, not even ten minutes walk from a station that is not just a transportation hub but more like a separate underground city, I found the entrance to the East Imperial Gardens. Yes, I am very well aware it is a cliche, but entering the gardens was like stepping into a different world. The concrete, the traffic, the high-rise buildings, and the never ending frenzy of one of the largest metropoles of the planet, all disappeared at once from my system as I walked through the ancient gate of the gardens. Here, I found carefully trimmed trees, old blocks of rock forming sturdy walls that looked surprisingly irregular. Surprisingly, because somehow it doesn't really fit into the image of the uniform, systematic organization of the Japanese. The East Imperial Gardens, or Higashi-gyoen, has been reconstructed and opened for the public only in 1968. I was early, and saw not too many other visitors. Anyway, the number of visitors is controlled by a simple system: at each entrance, only a limited tokens of entry can be obtained. When there are no more tokens, no one else is allowed in, until tokens are returned by people leaving the gardens.
I walked past Doshin-bansho, an old guard house, a modest wooden structure, on the side of the wide path leading towards thick walls with more irregular building blocks. Here, samurai guardsmen once kept watch of all people entering through Oti-mon gate through which I had just entered myself. Now, it had turned into a curiosity for visitors. Around the corner, I found the much longer Hyakunin-bansho guardhouse on a small square, where I opted for entering the part of the East Imperial Gardens that looked most interesting on the map - the easternmost part. After passing through a thick walled passage, a well-maintained garden was on my right hand side, and I took the first narrow path to enter it. This part of the Imperial Gardens, Ninomaru Garden, turned out to be, in fact, a very nice place. While the vegetation of the park is very well kept, there is also an attempt to make the gardens have a frivolous look where one can get lost. Small paths lead the visitor through small bushes of bamboo and many other trees and plants, past ponds, over small bridges, and even to a tiny waterfall. Obviously, this is all man-made nature, but in a balanced, interesting way. Standing on one of the bridges, I saw fat carps swimming in the shallow waters of the pond below. A little further, a typical Japanese stone lantern. Walking out of this attractive corner of the Imperial Gardens, I suddenly heard a helicopter hovering above the park, spotted it disappearing in the skyline and realized that I was, after all, still very close to modern Japanese life - the Edo period cocoon of the Imperial Gardens was of course not real.
Walking past the Suwano-chaya Tea House and the symbolic trees donated by all the prefectures of Japan, I reached the Shiomi-zaka slope, leading up to Honmaru, a different part of the East Imperial Gardens. From the observatory, I had a good view over Ninomaru, behind which the skyline of Tokyo loomed. I walked my way through this wider, open space, paths leading through patches of trees at the sides, while the inside of this garden is a well-kept lawn. Near the Imperial Concert Hall of Tokagakudo (Peach Blossom Music Hall), I climbed the base of Tenjukaku Donjon - a solid structure made of rocks, which was the royal keep and last bastion in case of siege. From the top, the best view of Honmaru. After leaving the East Imperial Gardens through Kitahane-bashi-mon Gate, brought me back to everyday life of Tokyo. I walked on the other side of the wide moat protecting the Imperial Palace and gardens against invaders, and discovered that this is a major track for runners. The views of the Fukiage Imperial Gardens on the other side of the moat were limited, and these gardens are off-limits to visitors. I walked all the way around the Imperial Palace to the Imperial Palace Outer Garden, from where I had the ubiquitous glimpse of the double-barrelled bridge of Nijubashi with a part of the Imperial Palace building. The Palace can only be visited two days a year - and today was not one of them. Once, Edo Castle stood here - the largest castle in the world at the time. The Imperial Palace of later years was destroyed at the end of World War II in US bombings, it was here that the Japanese capitulated, and it was only after the war that works started to rebuild the palace and reorganize the area to allow the public a glimpse in the beautiful retreat the imperial family have right in the middle of Tokyo.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Imperial Gardens (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Imperial Gardens. Read more about this site.