Visiting Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace

Shishinden Hall viewed through Jomeimon Gate on one of the popular Spring open days.

I have to admit Kyoto Imperial Palace didn’t exactly set me on fire with its charms the first time I visited several years ago (on one of the open days). Considering its heritage as the main residence of the Emperor for over one thousand years, several of the buildings seemed to need a little love and attention, and only a relatively small area was actually available for viewing.

Happily, I have come away with a very different impression this time round. My appreciation of traditional design has definitely increased – as in I now have some – but most of the buildings have also obviously been refurbished and more of the 27 acre grounds are open. It’s easy to imagine the simple acts of daily life through to the incredibly elaborate coronations and other ceremonies that have taken place here over the centuries.

Pace yourself

If you do take advantage of the annual open days in Spring and Autumn, when you can enter without an advance reservation, make sure to give yourself enough time. Not realizing the inner garden could be viewed, I arrived late and then spent too long geeking out on the geometric intricacies of the main buildings.

I was so focused on taking photos that I almost stepped back into four burly guards who had materialized out of the ether (seriously) and were waiting patiently for me, the last person, to finish. In my surprise, I burst out laughing – yes, I am a junior high school girl – causing them to break into… restrained smiles. Priceless!

They were polite but obviously wanted to wind things up and began herding visitors gently but increasingly quickly toward the exit. This didn’t leave much time to see the garden, which was really quite impressive with its multiple bridges and depth of scenic features. See the video on the Imperial Household Agency Web site for more details.

Share your knowledge:
Have you toured Kyoto Imperial Palace or one of the other palaces? Any tips for visitors? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Resources and other details
Home page of Imperial Household Agency’s English site
Information on visiting Kyoto Imperial Palace and details of upcoming open days
Apart from the special Spring and Autumn openings, Kyoto Imperial Palace can only usually be entered with a reservation. It is sometimes possible to turn up, with ID, and take the tour but spots are limited. The Imperial Household Agency site also has details for other palaces.

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