The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace offers a guided tour to the public; you can line up on the day of the tour and hope to get in, or you can apply for a place a month in advance and be sure of a spot. We took the second route, and today was our day; we showed up right on time and were ushered into the tour waiting room with no delay.

The official documentation says that the tour is conducted “mostly in Japanese”, but they broke us up into several language groups (Japanese, English, Spanish, and French for sure; probably others), each with a guide fluent in the appropriate language. We were also accompanied by several functionaries who were there to make sure nobody left the tour route.

The tour took us past several notable buildings, including the Imperial Palace itself, which is used for official events like State Dinners and the presentation of new ambassadors to Japan. The Emperor lives elsewhere on the grounds and was too busy to greet our tour today.

Imperial Household Agency Headquarters
Mt. Fuji viewing tower and modern Tokyo
Pine Tree outside the Imperial Palace, representing virtue and long-life
Fushimi-yagura Keep

The tour lasted about an hour, and then it was sayonara!

Kikyo-Mon Gate from the inside

As long as we were at the Palace, we decided to visit the Museum of the Imperial Collections, containing treasures garnered by the Imperial Family over many generations. The museum is still being built, but they’ve opened up two rooms on an interim basis, with rotating exhibitions. The current one is “Artwork which Adorned the Early Modern Imperial Palaces”, and there was a lot of artwork on display. Here’s a small sample.

Utensils for the Incense Identifying Game
Cup for Hairdressing Water and Stand with Chrysanthemums
Four-paneled screen

It was raining pretty hard by now, so we dashed into a subway station to look for lunch. Subway stations here are often connected to office buildings with many restaurants, and that was the case this time. We decided to try Marugo because the pictures on its menu looked good. It’s a yakiniku restaurant, which meant we were served thin slices of beef to cook on a barbecue at our table – it was fun, tasty, and pretty inexpensive.

We thought it would be a good idea to stay inside for a while, so we took the train to the Takashimaya flagship store and wandered through about one-third of the store. We visited the food halls ($100 melons, anyone?), the art gallery, bought a scarf and a postcard, and even dared to visit the Pokemon Center, which occupies most of a floor of the East Building of the store.

I’d heard a lot about a very different store, Don Quijote, so we made that our next stop. It’s loaded with a huge variety of merchandise, much of it pretty schlocky. There were tons of suitcases (apparently tourists often go there to buy a suitcase to bring home their purchases), electronics, toys, “adult toys”, candy, Halloween costumes, clothing, liquor, and much much more. I bought a bag of matcha Kit-Kats and we called it a day.