The Imperial Palace East Gardens (皇居東御苑, Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen) are a part of the inner imperial palace and open to the public since 1968. In the 17th century, the current palace was the location of Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate. The East Gardens comprise the former honmaru (inner bailey), the ninomaru (second bailey) and the sannomaru (third bailey) and cover some 210,000 square metres with a vast expanse of lawn in the centre, the remains of the donjon in the northern part and the magnificent watchtower, the Fujimi-yagura, and an orchard planted by the imperial family in the southern part.
Most visitors access the gardens through Ōtemon Gate (大手門) and then proceed to the Museum of the Imperial Collection (三の丸尚蔵館 Sannomaru-Shōzōkan) which houses some 8,000 pieces of imperial household treasures bestowed to the public by the imperial family (free admission). Next to the Shōzōkan is what could be described as a souvenir shop: the little wooden building offers books and souvenirs and shows videos on the imperial family. Passing the three surviving guardhouses from the Edo Period, visitors reach the honmaru area with its picturesque orchard known for traditional fruit trees that were common in the Meiji Period and were planted by the emperor himself. Historical buildings include the Fujimi-yagura, the Fujimi-tamon defence house and the site of the former Matsu no Ōrōka, the hallway where the Forty-Seven Ronin incident was set in motion (see below).
The northern part of the honmaru area is the location of the Tenshudai (天守台), the main keep of Edo Castle. The donjon was completed in 1638 under Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shōgun, but destroyed in a fire in 1657. It has never been restored and serves as an observation platform for visitors. Next to the Tenshudai is the Tōkagakudō (桃華楽堂), the mosaic-clad Imperial Music Hall built in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Empress Kojun, the wife of Emperor Shōwa, in 1963.
The ninomaru area features a traditional Japanese garden based on an 18th-century garden plan and the Ninomaru Grove created on suggestion of Emperor Shōwa. It was modelled on the disappearing woodlands in and around Tōkyō and in 2002 was expanded with a brook running through it.
Otemon was the main gate to Edo Castle and was used by daimyō and other dignitaries who attended official functions at the shogunal headquarters.
The first (and smaller) gate and the larger second gate form a right angle that would trap attackers and expose them to counterattacks from the firing points on top of the second gate. The gate was destroyed in an air raid in April 1945 and renovated in 1967.
Dōshin Bansho Guardhouse (同心番所)
One of the three remaining guardhouses of Edo Castle. When daimyō attended functions in the castle their retinues had to wait for their lord's return. Dōshin were a low-ranking class of shogunal guards watching the retinues.
Hyakunin Bansho (百人番所)
The Hyakunin Bansho guarded the access to the inner bailey of Edo Castle and housed four units of 120 guards. The third remaining guardhouse, the Ōbansho (大番所), was reserved for higher-ranking bushi (warriors) and was the last check-point before entering the inner bailey.
Yagura are defensive turrets placed at strategically important points. Fujimi-yagura stands in the south-eastern corner of the outer walls; it is said that in the Edo Period (1600-1867) it was possible to view Mount Fuji from the turret. Only two other of the originally eleven yagura remain: Tatsumi-yagura (巽櫓) and Fushimi-yagura (伏見櫓). Fujimi-yagura was constructed in the early 17th century, but burned down in 1657 along with the donjon. While the honmaru was never rebuilt, Fujimi-yagura was reconstructed in 1659 and took over the role of the main turret. It was again destroyed in the Great Tōkyō Earthquake in 1923 and renovated in 1925 and again prior to the opening of the Imperial East Gardens in 1968.
Matsu no Ōrōka (松之大廊下)
Matsu no Ōrōka (松之大廊下), the Great Pine Hallway, is the site of the longest and widest corridors of the former Edo Castle and of historical fame: it was here where in 1701 Asano Naganori, the daimyō of Akō, attacked and injured Kira Yoshinaka which later led to the famous incident of the Forty-Seven Ronin.
The Fujimi-tamon is the sole surviving example of defence houses that together with yagura and outer walls circled the honmaru.
The Tenshudai is the base of the former main donjon and located in the northern corner of the honmaru. It measures 45 metres in length and 41 metres in width; it is 11 metres high. The original five-storey donjon reached 58 metres in height and was the tallest in Japan.
The Suwa-no-Chaya teahouse was built by Emperor Meiji in 1912 in the Fukiage Gardens in the western part of the palace and moved to Akasaka Palace after the Meiji Restoration. In 1968, it was reconstructed in its original location.
Located in the former ninomaru of Edo Castle and created in 1964, the Ninomaru Gardens were modelled on an 18th-century garden on the same spot.
The main gate to the sannomaru (三の丸) was used by service personnel; it is said that convicts and deceased were carried out through Hirakawa Gate.
Closed: Mondays and Fridays (except for national holidays) and December 28-January 3
- 9:00-16:30 (March 1-April 14)
- 9:00-17:00 (April 15-August 31)
- 9:00-16:30 (September 1-October 31)
- 9:00-16:00 (November 1-February 28/29)
Access: Ōtemon Gate (from Ōtemachi Sta. or Tōkyō Sta.), Hirakawa Gate, and Kitahanebashi Gate (both from Takebashi Sta.)
Admission: free; visitors have to take a token upon arrival and return it when they leave the gardens.