Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Emperor’s Former Residence
Kyoto Imperial Palace is located in Kyoto Gyoen, a 63-hectare park in the heart of the city. The palace was Japan’s imperial family residence until 1868, and the current buildings date back to 1855. Under the supervision of the Imperial Household Agency, the palace and its neighboring official edifices are open to the visit.
In the same fashion as Central Park in New York, Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds form a large rectangle and constitute a green lung in the center of the city. All day long, this lively space is visited by Kyoto’s inhabitants and tourists, looking for a break. The place is not only dedicated to rest: it harbors many constructions of official importance and use, such as Kyoto Gosho former imperial residence, Sento Imperial Palace, and the Kyoto State Guest House.
Since July 2016, the Imperial Palace’s visit is possible without prior reservation, and consists of an exclusively outdoor guided tour of several traditional buildings. The tour thus leads through several gates, up to a garden on which the view is unfortunately reduced. Then, the course reverses to the exit, on the western side by Seisho-mon gate.
This pleasant tour allows to understand the wideness of the place. It is quite different from Tokyo Imperial Palace, where the Emperor currently lives, that is almost always closed to the public, except for its outer gardens. However, the tour can become a long waiting line when visiting at the same time as big groups of tourists. It is recommended to arrive for the opening hour or for the last admission of the day.
Kyoto State Guest House
Facing the Imperial Palace grounds, Kyoto State Guest House is open to visit upon prior online reservation. There is about one hour wait and visitors are required to arrive thirty minutes before the beginning hour of the tour to allow for security checks (bags are inspected) and arrange to place bigger bags in lockers.
Movement is key in this tour: visitors must be careful not to lose their group, at the risk of being scolded by security guards. Visits starts every 15 minutes for groups of about thirty visitors and follow an indoor course defined by a floor marking. Photos without flash are authorized. An audio guide provides some explanations in English, and a bilingual guide is available occasionally, but only around noon on specific days.
Built in 2005, the Kyoto State Guest House is an official construction aiming at the promotion of Japanese hospitality towards overseas visitors. It is therefore closed to the public during foreign state officials visits. The interests here are the architecture and the reception rooms arrangements, that offer a renewal of the Japanese building traditions. It is especially interesting for amateurs of Japanese furniture and paintings, but not so much for other people, and the quite expensive admission fee may deter from visiting.
On the south, Sento Imperial Palace is also opened to visit with prior reservation. It is possible to book a tour in advance online or on site from 11 a.m. on the same day, on a "first come, first served basis." The place is interesting for its large Edo period garden.
Between two guided tours, visitors can enjoy the park that is, in itself, a place to observe Kyotoites’ everyday life. It includes numerous green spaces to have a picnic, baseball fields and tennis courts as well as playgrounds for children. Thanks to the park’s wide paths, walking or cycling across the area is easy. The place is ultimately quite open, with schoolchildren coming to play under the trees while high-ranking officials’ convoys pass, reminding of the historical importance of the place.