Built on the site of the former Edo Castle, this oasis in the heart of Chiyoda Ward became the permanent home to the Imperial Family in 1869. Surrounded by garden areas filled with beautifully manicured plants and flowers, moats, and remnants of the old Edo Castle structures, this area is perfect as a respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Not normally open to the public, this is where the Imperial Family resides. There are two days a year when you can catch a glimpse of the Emperor. On January 2nd you can see the Imperial family and listen to a short statement. Expect big crowds, so arrive early at the main (Nijyubashi) entrance which opens at 9:30 a.m. Leave your bags where you're staying, and wear comfortable shoes. The second date is December 23rd, the current Emperor's birthday. Enter through the same gate, leave a message in the greeting book, and view the Imperial Family in the morning hours.
Other than the New Year's celebration and the Emperor's birthday, you can easily book a tour around the inner grounds and skip the queue by contacting the Imperial Household Agency . Tours are available Tuesday thru Saturday. Same-day tickets are also issued every day the tour is open, and distributed from 8:30 for the morning tour and 12:00 for the afternoon tour. Even on this 75 minute tour, don't expect an inside peek of palace life. Don't let this dissuade you though, as you can still take in the Imperial Palace itself, a view of the Lotus Moat, walk across the Nijyu bridge, and stroll along Yamashita Street.
Open every day except Monday and Friday and free to the public, these beautiful Japanese gardens are easily accessible and therefore even more well-known than the Inner Palace Grounds. While you walk through, see the last pieces that give away the original purpose of this area, tucked in among the beautiful greenery. Sitting between the innermost circles of the former Edo Castle, view and climb the foundation of a castle tower that burned down over 350 years ago. For the budding botanist in everyone, over 40 kinds of blooms open throughout the year, from cherry blossoms to iris and sunflowers. For a full list, check out the Imperial Household agency's site .
The surrounding locales offer up a wide range of options for things to see and do. Check out the recently restored and renovated Tokyo Station Building, a 10-minute walk away, or head to the Japan Post building next door where you can enjoy shopping or grab some food if you're hungry. Nearby is the National Theater , where you can watch a symphony or traditional Japanese arts such as Kabuki or Noh. The National Museum of Modern Art is also a short distance away, featuring a permanent collection and special exhibits. This is just scratching the surface, so take a day to explore around and make your own special memories in the heart of Tokyo.