Imperial Palace East Gardens + Fortifications On A Fine Morning

On my last day in Tokyo, I pretty much had a full day as I didn't have to be at the airport until five or six PM.  It was a coolish morning, but with beautiful clear skies.  I had never visited the Imperial Palace East Gardens before and decided to give it a whirl.

The East Gardens had never been high on my priority list as there aren't any fancy gardens or buildings you can tour through.  My main interest in it would have been seeing Edo Castle, which burned down in 1873 and was never rebuilt.  There are other palace buildings that survive, but it was really the castle that I would have wanted to see rather than the gardens.

There is actually a great deal of history tied up in the Imperial Palace.  It was originally a castle established in the 15th century.  Under the Tokugawa Shogunate, it became the center of their government.  Under the Shogunate it was heavily expanded and built up.  Earthworks reclaimed land from the sea, large defensive earthworks were built along with moats.  Even the epic story of the 47 Ronin started here over a duel.

It turns out that I enjoyed the visit way more than I expected.  No one had ever really talked about the defensive earthworks or surviving buildings all that much.  Photos are generally of the same few places - like a corner guard tower near the front gate.  Touring the well kept gardens allowed me to see the stone-clad earthworks that have survived to the present and they were way larger in scale than anything I was expecting (nice surprise).  It helps that I have an interest in fortifications, but most people should be impressed by the stone walls.  See this article I wrote on ancient fortifications.  So, see the East Gardens if you have time, and the foundations of Edo Castle are still quite impressive without the castle on top.
Nearby hotels and office buildings overlooking the palace grounds.  A big moat surrounds the palace.
The Imperial Palace is quite close to Tokyo Station, and you can easily walk there in under 10 minutes, but that just takes you to the beginning of a great big long queue.  The Tokyo Metropolitan Police take the job of protecting the emperor and the grounds pretty seriously so there are hundreds of police deployed to do crowd control and general security.  There are loudspeaker announcements telling you to get into line, police manage traffic on the streets for both cars and pedestrians.  This is another thing the guidebooks don't talk about.  There are literally constant waves of hundreds of people entering the grounds - it is busy - which is why there are so many police.   You have a long walk through the queues before entering the grounds.  The line moves quickly though - basically as fast as you walk actually. 
Kaiser Bakery in nearby Marunouchi.
I saw the big lines for the first time and said, that's not worth the wait, so I went for a croissant and coffee.  Turns out the lines don't die down, so in I went.
The first sign of the Imperial Palace as you walk from Tokyo Station is the big moat.  There are some stone walls on the other side and I used to think that was about it, but theres more!  The towers along the moat are some of the more famous images that show up for the palace.
Nice stone walls on the far side of the moat.
One of the surviving corner towers.
Tower closeup.
After having the police guide you over some busy roads - the congestion would be horrible here without somekind of control - you enter the queues.  There are dozens of big police buses parked here in all their riot control armoured exteriors.  The crowd quickly walks along.  The walk through the queues is at least a kilometre, and I can't imagine this place getting packed with people on a hot day, and I'll bet that it happens.  When you get close to the main gate, you go through a police checkpoint where they search everyone's bags.  After that, you are in the palace grounds for some great sightseeing.
TOP: Walking by the police buses.  BOTTOM: The kilometre of queues for the crowds.  While I was there a police escore lead some dark sedans and a van out from the residential part of the Imperial Palace.  I wonder if there was nobility in that caravan.
Main Gate.  It shows up in the anime Gate.
Inside the grounds are very spacious.  This road with no entry lead to the off limits residences of the Imperial Family.
A large corner tower.  Some fall colours.  Nicely groomed trees.
A guardhouse - there are musket firing loopholes in the white building.
A gate.
Edo Castle was built on a hill.  The sides of the hill were built up and armoured in stone to create a formidable fortification.  It is quite a high wall as you can tell from the photos below.  Must be over 25 metres high, with another moat in front.  There are wetland areas inside the grounds.
Impressive fortification walls with a guardhouse on top.
You can see the moat and the tall buildings that surround the palace.
More moats.  There were lots of people taking pictures of the fall foliage.
You finally walk up into the next set of fortification walls, going up the hill in narrower roads with stone walls on both side.  At the top, there is a big grassy open area with the foundations of Edo Castle very visibible.  The foundations are quite large, with large blocks of well fitted stone used throughout.
TOP: Distant shot of the entire foundations.  BOTTOM: Walking up into the foundations.  There was another big line here.
The original castle would have looked something like this.  (From a geocraper model I own).
The castle must have been very impressive prior to burning down.  Seeing a real Japanese castle is on my itinerary for the next time I visit Japan.  As it is, you can get an indication of the size of the original castle by walking through the foundations.
Some basemants inside the foundations.
The great stonework in the castle foundations.
Some big blocks of stone were used.  These are small and medium blocks.
Walking around the grassy park area, there are woods along the edges.  Another surviving guard tower Fjjimi-yagura is one you can get relatively close to.
Fujimi-yagura sign.
Fujimi Yagura.
After wandering the park, you can head downhill.  There are some nice stoneworks and a nicely kept up guard barracks you can walk by.  From here you can visit the north garden area or exit back out to the east towards Tokyo Station again through another gate.
Guard barracks
Beautiful fall colours.
Guard tower.

That's it for my quick overview of the East Gardens.  I quite enjoyed my visit.  It wasn't one of those things I was sad that I had put off for a long time, but it was something I was glad I did.

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