The Imperial Palace is the former residence of the shogun, now the home of the emperor and his family.
Tokyo Imperial Palace is a haven of greenery in the middle of the city.
The National Diet, the Japanese parliament
The red-bricked facade of Tokyo Station.
Credit: Takayuki Miki (三木貴幸)
Otaku paradise, Akihabara is full of game arcades.
From the vastness of the Imperial Palace to the austerity of government buildings; the teeming crowds of Tokyo Station to the student-friendly Kanda, the shopping haven of Jinbocho to the otaku paradise of Akihabara, Chiyoda, at the centre of the capital, is a borough of many faces.
"(Tokyo) offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty." This is how Roland Barthes described the Japanese capital, and in particular the neighborhood of Chiyoda, or Chiyoda-ku, in his book Empire of Signs. The famous French sociologist described the Imperial Palace, the Kokyo, as located in the "center" of Tokyo but inaccessible to ordinary people who must bypass the 3.41km² area.
A landmark of Chiyoda, The Imperial Palace was built in 1888 on the site of an Edo castle, destroyed by fire in 1873.
All that remains of the old castle are some vestiges of ramparts and moats, which isolate the palace from the rest of the city and force motorists and pedestrians to find a way around it. This is the "empty center" Barthes referred to.
The palace, still inhabited by the Emperor and Empress, is open to the public on the birthday of the Emperor and the first day of the year. Parts of the gardens, the Eastern Kitanomaru garden and park are open to the public except on Mondays and Fridays.
Chidorigafuchi, the pathway along the northwest moat of the Imperial Palace, is famous - and very popular - for its cherry blossoms.
Chiyoda ward (Chiyoda-ku) covers over 12km², and is also the political center of Japan. It houses the National Diet, the Supreme Court and the residence of the Japanese Prime Minister, as well as many ministries and administrative buildings in the district of Kasumigaseki.
There is also the controversial Shinto shrine Yasukuni Shrine. Built in 1869 to honor the Japanese "who gave their lives in the name of the Emperor of Japan," the shrine honors the souls of ordinary Japanese soldiers but also those now considered war criminals. The shrine is also famous for its cherry blossoms.
All roads lead to Tokyo Station
Chiyoda also includes some of the liveliest districts such as Marunouchi, which hosts many corporate headquarters as well as the beautiful Tokyo Station. Recently renovated, it celebrated its 100 years in 2014. Barthes, again, describes: "The Japanese station is crossed by a thousand functional trajectories, from the journey to the purchase, from the garment to food: a train can open onto a shoe stall. Dedicated to commerce, to transition, to departure, and yet kept in a unique structure." Yes, Tokyo Station certainly fits this description. With ten platforms and some 4,000 trains that pass through it daily, underground shopping malls, restaurants, and even a large hotel, Tokyo Station, Tokyo eki, is almost a city within a city.
The place for bargain hunters and otaku
The neighbourhoods of Jinbocho and Kanda are also part of Chiyoda. They are nicknamed Book Town, as they bring together an impressive number of bookshops and booksellers. There are also many sellers of Japanese prints and antiques. In short, they are a paradise for bargain hunters. Kanda has long been a university neighbourhood where you can take a leisurely stroll. In May you will find the Kanda Matsuri, one of the three major traditional festivals of Tokyo.
Finally, there's the antithesis of the imposing imperial domain and its tranquility: Akihabara. With neon lights, blaring announcements, electronics vendors soliciting for clients with speakers, maid cafes, manga and figurine shops, it is one of the noisiest Tokyo neighbourhoods and always teeming with tourists and otaku.