Japanese gardens are so eccentric that they have found their enthusiasts around the world. Green reservations decorated in this style occur on every continent. They are usually established in close proximity to buildings. In this way, they are an area for meditation and relaxation. These are exactly the tasks of the imperial gardens in the very centre of crowded and loud Tokyo. The gardens are an integral part of the Palace of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. In the over 35-million metropolis, the park appears as a remedy for the 21st century ailments.

Residence of Japanese emperors – Edo Castle

In the 19th century, the huge Edo Castle still stood in the centre of Edo, present-day Tokyo. It was the seat of the Tokugawa Shoguns – the rulers of this family. After the overthrow of the shogunate in 1868, the capital of the empire was moved from Kyoto to Edo. At that time the Palace was the seat of the emperors. In 1923, an earthquake in the Kantō region caused a huge fire. The cataclysm ruined more than half of Tokyo together with the Imperial Palace. 140,000 people died at that time. Japan began to rebuild the palace complex. However, its life was short. Not even 20 years had passed when the Second World War broke out. Allied forces dropped bombs on Tokyo, which killed approx. 100,000 people – more than in the famous attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Imperial Palace was also severely damaged. The restoration of imperial buildings was initiated after the war, and in 1968 the construction was complete.

The Imperial Palace and office and government district

The only remains of the former Edo Castle were the old, stone foundations, on which the current residence of the emperors was erected. The palace has two floors, and its structure is based on reinforced concrete. The building is modern, but features several traditional elements of Japanese style. It has a gable convex roof and wooden supports and columns, typical of the Land of the Rising Sun. The imperial complex is surrounded by the government and office district. Nearby there are the parliamentary buildings of the House of Councillors (参議院 – Sangiin) and the House of Representatives (衆議院 – Shūgiin), the Supreme Court, the Police Headquarters, the offices of many banks, embassies and important international institutions such as the UN or Amnesty International.

Two special days of the year

Part of the imperial complex is not available on a daily basis. This is mainly the area where the Emperor’s Palace is located. The rest of the area can be used freely. It is also possible to visit it for free with a guide. The restricted part of the estate can be visited only on two days a year. The first is a national holiday on 23 December, the birthday of Emperor Akihito. The other is 02 January, the celebration of the New Year. Then the Emperor and his family go out onto a glass-covered, bullet-proof veranda to greet the gathered.

Japanese gardens and their unique style

Japanese gardens reflect harmony, simplicity and elegance. The general idea is to imitate nature without harming it. The key element of the parks of the Land of the Rising Sun is the water, which symbolises life. There are also stones, tea pavilions, stone lanterns, paths and wooden bridges. They are arranged in accordance with the philosophy of Zen, and their purpose is contemplation and rest. There are many types of Japanese gardens, but there are two basic styles:

  • Tsukiyama (築山 – artificial hill) – these are beautiful gardens with small hills, stones symbolising mountains as well as streams and ponds reflecting the sea and rivers. They also feature very specific Japanese bonsai trees.
  • Karesansui (築山 – stone garden) – this type of Japanese gardens is characterised by a substrate of gravel or sand, boulders and stone paths. Water bodies are avoided in them, which is why sometimes they are called dry gardens.

Japanese Central Park

The complex of imperial gardens is often compared to Central Park in New York. Both attractions have an identical area of 341 hectares – for comparison, it is more than Białowieża Forest. Similarly to the New York park, in the Tokyo green centre you can also see overwhelming skyscrapers on every side. However, the surrounding trees, various plants, ponds, stones and pavilions let you forget about the city noise. The difference is that no one plays baseball in the imperial gardens. In addition, the Japanese scrupulously respect the walking on designated paths, which cannot be said about the New York strollers.

Captivating Kitanomaru Park

Kitanomaru Park (北の丸公園) is known for its former healing properties. Previously it was called the City of Local Governors, as it was inhabited by many daikans (代官) – the heads of Japanese prefectures. The reserve is surrounded by a moat and it includes small, charming waterfalls. There are two original Edo gates at both entrances: Shimizumon Gate and Tayasumon Gate. Numerous military buildings such as the defensive courtyard, guardhouses, pavilions and weapons arsenals have survived in the area.

It is best to visit the park in the second half of March. It is then that the alley of cherry blossoms stretching along the moat makes an electrifying impression. Branches of trees bend on the slopes and reach down to water. You can rent a boat and sail around the moat in that scenery.

In the northern part of the Kitanomaru Garden there are 3 interesting places to visit:

  • Nippon Budokan (日本武道館 – Nihonbudoukan) – a sports arena for Japanese martial arts like judo, karate or aikido. The annual Japanese championship is held there. In addition to sporting events, the hall is also used as a concert venue. It hosted the shows of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and others. Today, the most famous contemporary artists still perform at Nippon Budokan.
  • The Science Museum (科学技術館) – designated mainly for families with children. It gives the opportunity to learn in an interactive way the puzzles from the world of transport, technology, the future and natural sciences.
  • The National Museum of Modern Art (東京国立近代美術館 – toukyoukokuritsukindaibijutsukan) – shows the influence of Western culture on Japanese art and vice versa. In its collection you can find works of many celebrities of contemporary art, including Willem de Kooning and Walker Evans. The Museum also houses the National Film Centre with a large collection of films and arranges regular screenings.

Tokyo – a city of a thousand paradoxes

Many things can be left unnoticed in a huge metropolis such as Tokyo. Hundreds of attractions, cultural elements and historic sites are lost among dense wooden buildings, concrete blocks and modern skyscrapers. The most popular attractions of the city include the Imperial Palace and its famous gardens. The complex is not difficult to see on the tourist map, as this green jungle is visible even from space. However, in the face of many known and fashionable attractions like: Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー、the highest tower in Tokyo), Disneyland(ディズニーランド), Tokyo Tower (東京タワー、a tower resembling the Eiffel Tower), Sensō-ji (浅草寺、the oldest temple of Tokyo), Tsukiji (築地, Tokyo fish market) or Shinjuku Gyo-en (新宿御苑、the most popular park), there may be insufficient time for the Imperial Palace.

However, the imperial complex is the most important place for all of Japan. It is there that important decisions are made, fundamental laws are passed and the fate of the country and its citizens is determined. Because of the seriousness of the whole situation, the gardens are cultivated with double care. Considering the fact that the Japanese are inherently orderly, it is worth seeing the doubled Japanese order in the Imperial Palace.

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