Kyoto Imperial Palace 京都御所
Emperors, empresses, princes and concubines lived for centuries behind the walls of Kyoto-gosho. Today the former imperial palace welcomes visitors and transports them back in time.
Kyoto's Imperial Palace, or Gosho, is the former residence of the Emperor of Japan, located north of downtown Kyoto. No Emperor, however, has resided in Gosho since 1869, which is when the imperial family and its retainers was transferred to Tokyo following the Meiji Restoration.
Gosho is inside the large Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyoto Gyoen 京都御苑) which forms the former grounds of the Imperial Palace. The palace grounds are a big rectangular slab in the heart of the city, roughly 1.3 km (slightly short of a mile) north to south and about half that east to west. It has a great variety of trees, and is very popular for both hanami (cherry viewing) and the fall colors.
The park contains many imperial buildings, including the Sento Imperial Palace (Sento Gosho 仙洞御所) just south-east of the old Imperial Palace and almost the same size. Sento Imperial Palace was a palace for retired emperors, dating from the early 17th century. A tour of the palace takes about 1 hour, and focuses on its large garden. The park also includes tennis courts, baseball fields, and an Imperial Household office.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace has been at this location since the 12th century. It had however already been home to the Emperor long before that. The current palace was rebuilt in 1855 after the previous buildings had been destroyed in one of the numerous fires that razed the buildings over the years.
Within the palace grounds - which are open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year - there are several imperial residences. The Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho) maintains and runs both the buildings and grounds. Visitors who wish to visit any historical imperial facility - including the Katsura Rikyu Villa about 6km south-west of Gosho, and Shugakuin, about 4km north-east of Gosho. - can apply for permission at the Imperial Household Agency Office located on the west side of the grounds. Visits are by way of guided tours only, which do not permit access to inside the buildings.
The main gate, on Marutamachi Street, on the south side, is an impressive structure with a beautiful cypress roof. In the past, emperors received dignitaries here. Beyond this gate is a second gate, which leads to the Shishinden, or Hall for State Ceremonies.
In the south west corner of the Palace grounds are the remains of the Kujo Residence, a once large house built for the Kujo family, who were one of the five families of imperial advisors. All that remains are the Shusuitei Tea Ceremony pavilion and the Itsukushima Shrine on an island in a small lake. The residence was used for negotiations between the Tokugawa shogunate and the imperial court over whether to open treaty ports to westerners in the 1860's.
On the westside is the Hamagurigomon Gate, which was attacked during the above mentioned Kimmon Incident, when samurai from Choshu attacked the gate, which was guarded by troops from the Aizu, Kuwana and Satsuma clans. There are supposedly bullet holes still visible but this visitor was unable to discern any. The gate gets its name for the fact that it was always closed like a clam (hamaguri) until opened to allow citizens to escape a fire during the Edo Period. Previous to this, the gate was called Shinzaikemon.
The Retired Emperor's Palace (Sento Gosho) was constructed in 1630 by the Tokugawa shogunate for the retired emperor Go-Mizuno-o and has a lovely stroll garden.
Tours by the Imperial Household Agency
Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) can be visited only by participating in one of the daily tours organized by the Imperial Household Agency. Tours run every day except Sunday and national holidays.
Tour bookings can be made, usually on the same day, at the Imperial Household Agency Office in the north-west of the palace grounds, open Monday-Friday from 8:45 am to 5 pm (but closed noon to 1 pm). Bookings can also be made online, but not on the same day.
Near Kyoto Imperial Palace
On the east side of the Palace just outside the walls are Nashinoki Shrine, known for its pure water and Rozanji Temple, which stages a colorful setsubun festival complete with devil dance in February. There is a 300-year-old muku tree on the grounds here that was once part of the garden of a court official - the Shimizudani residence. The tree is associated with the death of Choshu samurai Kijima Matabei, who died here in 1864 in a sword fight during the Kimmon Incident.
South of the Imperial Palace on Teramachi, exiting the southern Kanreimon Gate, is the Shimo Goryo Shrine, which enshrines the guardian deity of the Imperial Palace. The shrine was moved here by Tomotomi Hideyoshi and was originally built to placate the spirits of the Imperial Prince Iyo and his mother, Fujiwara Yoshiko.
Nijo Castle is about 8 minutes walk to the south-west of the Imperial Palace from the south-west corner of the Palace grounds, and the Kyoto International Manga Museum is about 6 minutes walk directly south from the same corner. The Heian Jingu Shrine is just over 10 minutes walk east along Marutamachi-dori Avenue (Route 187) from the south-east corner of Gosho. Kyoto City Hall is about 7 minutes walk south from the south-east corner of the grounds of the Imperial Palace.
Several universities surround the Imperial Palace, among them Doshisha University on its northern edge. Doshisha University is one of Japan's premier private universities, and has elegant 19th century brick buildings and an attractive campus.
Just behind Doshisha University are the spacious grounds of Shokokuji Temple, where poet Gary Synder spent time as a priest while he lived in Kyoto in the 1960s. Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine a little to the east of Gosho, and Kyoto University is about a kilometer east, across the Kamo River.
Address, timetable & access
Kyoto Imperial Palace
3 Kyoto Gyoen, Kamigyo-ku
Phone+81 (0)75 211 1215
AccessSubway: From Kyoto Station, take the Kurasuma Line to Marutamachi Station. Exit 1 for the south gate. For the north gate, take the Kurasuma Line to Imadegawa Station. On Foot: It is also possible to walk from downtown. From City Hall, walk north along Teramachi (the narrow street on the west side of City Hall) for about 10- 15 minutes. Teramachi has many small shops and restaurants.