The Secret to Kyoto’s Imperial Palace

The surrounding park and neighborhood have just as much to offer as the royal house

The inner sanctuaries of Japan’s original capital are high on anyone’s list when visiting Kyoto. The classic orange gates and walls of the inner palace set against its expansive stone driveways transport you to another era and give an eerie sense of being on a film set. Massive wooden structures, centuries-old paintings, and an exquisitely manicured garden do not disappoint.

Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds

Yet walk out beyond the inner walls and into the surrounding public park and you will be rewarded with just as many discoveries. A delightful plum tree garden blooms every shade of pink in early spring; the variety of cherry blossoms is a magnet for visitors from the neighborhood and around the world.

In the fall, too, the park is full of picnickers and dog walkers, bicyclists and wanderers, every one of them soaking in the glory of the density, and delicacy, of color on display. Unlike Kyoto’s temple leaf peeping spots, this one is free.

Kyoto Imperial Palace park in autumn

Connecting one end of the park to the other are lovely trails shaded by trees of significant age and beauty. In a clearing you’ll find a community library kiosk with books on offer and benches for readers. You may also run in to a group of ardent bird watchers who regularly set up serious tripods and other equipment to monitor resident owls and rare feathered friends who frequent the canopy of trees.

Exit the park by the northeast corner to meander your way to Futaba, Kyoto’s most popular confectionary. Famous for its mame mochi, you’ll see people lined up on the street outside almost any time of day to get the fresh sweets. The combination of taste and texture is unparalleled in the cuisine of mochi: the sweetness is countered by the slightest hint of salty and a few whole, chewy beans break up the unbelievable softness that surrounds them. What a treat!

Futaba confectionary shop

If you haven’t carried your own trusty thermos full of tea, pick up a hot beverage at the convenience store on the way to the river. You are just minutes from the confluence of the Kamo and Takano rivers, a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. Cross to the “point” by hopping the giant turtle-shaped stones in the river or sit by either shore. Enjoy your afternoon snack, the view, and your fellow revelers. It’s living like royalty.

Maps of the grounds and public park of the Imperial Palace, one minute walk from the Imadegawa subway station:

As of June 2017 you can walk the grounds of the inner palace on your own without a reservation, but an informative and free tour is also available for foreigners twice daily on weekdays, in English. Simply go to the office and present your passport, you can often join on the same day or make a reservation for an appointed date.


Library Kiosk (Japanese article on external site):

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