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Coordinates: 35°41′05.11″N 139°45′08.85″E / 35.6847528°N 139.7524583°E / 35.6847528; 139.7524583

Panorama of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Map of the Imperial Palace and surrounding gardens
Aerial photograph of Imperial Palace of Japan in 1979

Tokyo Imperial Palace (皇居 kōkyo; literally Imperial Residence?) is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in Chiyoda, Tokyo close to Tokyo Station and contains various buildings such as the main palace (Kyūden (宮殿?)) and the private residences of the imperial family. The total area including the gardens is 7.41 square kilometers. During the height of the 1980s Japanese property bubble, the palace grounds were valued by some as more than the value of all the real estate in the state of California[1].



After the capitulation of the Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, the inhabitants including the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu had to vacate the premises of Edo Castle. In the second year of Meiji, on the 23rd day of the 10th month (1868), the emperor left Kyoto Imperial Palace for Tokyo.[2] The Edo castle compound became the new imperial residence and was renamed Tokyo Castle (東京城 Tokyo-jō?) in October, 1868, and then renamed Imperial Castle (皇城 Kōjō?) in 1869. Previous fires had already destroyed the Honmaru area containing the old donjon (which itself had burned in the 1657 Meireki fire). On the night of 5 May 1873 a fire consumed the Nishinomaru Palace (which had been the shogun's residential palace), and this area became the site of the new imperial Palace Castle (宮城 Kyūjō?), built in 1888.

The Kyūden (宮殿?) shortly after its completion in the late 1800's
Meiji-era palace structures, destroyed during World War II
Throne hall of Meiji-era palace, destroyed during World War II

In the Meiji era, most of the structures from Edo Castle disappeared, either to make way for other buildings or due to earthquakes and fire. For example, the wooden double bridges (二重橋 Nijūbashi?) over the moat were replaced with stone and iron bridges. The architecture of the imperial palace and buildings constructed in the Meiji era was from the outside pure traditional Japanese architecture, while the interiors were an eclectic mixture of Japanese and European elements fashionable in the 19th century. Most of the buildings were constructed from wood. The ceilings of the grand chambers were coffered with Japanese elements; however, Western furniture such as chairs and tables, together with heavy curtains, were used. For the floors, the public rooms had parquet or carpet but the residential spaces used the traditional tatami mats.

The main audience hall was the central part of the palace. It was the largest building, in which guests were received for public events. The floor space was more than 223 tsubo (1 tsubo is 3.306 m²). In the interior, the coffered ceiling was traditional Japanese-style, while the floor was parquetry. The roof was styled as in the Kyoto Imperial Palace, but was covered with copper plates (in order to make it fireproof) rather than Japanese cypress shingles.

In the late Taisho and early Showa eras, more buildings were added that were constructed with concrete, such as the headquarters of the Imperial Household Ministry and the Privy Council. These structures were more modern in appearance with only some token Japanese elements.

From 1888 to 1948, it was called Palace Castle (宮城 Kyūjō?). On the night of 25 May 1945 most of the structures of the Imperial Palace were destroyed in the Allied fire-bombing raid. It was from the basement of the concrete library that Emperor Showa declared the capitulation of Japan in August 1945. Due to the large-scale destruction of the Meiji-era palace, the new main palace hall (Kyūden (宮殿?)) and residences were constructed on the western part of the site in the 1960s. The whole area was renamed literally Imperial Residence (皇居 Kōkyo?) in 1948. The east part was renamed East Garden (東御苑 Higashi-Gyoen?) and has been a public park since 1968.

The present imperial palace encompasses the retrenchments of the former Edo Castle where the Honmaru (inner citadel), Ninomaru (second citadel), Nishinomaru (west citadel), Sannomaru (third citadel), and Fukiage Gardens existed. A palace (Kyūden (宮殿?)) for various imperial court functions is located in the Nishinomaru and the residence of the emperor and empress is located in the Fukiage Gardens.

The Kitanomaru Park is located to the north and is the former northern enceinte of Edo Castle. It is a public park and Nippon Budokan Hall is located there. To the south are the large outer gardens of the imperial palace, which is also a public park. A bronze monument to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (北白川宮能久親王 Kitashirakawa-no-miya Yoshihisa-shinnō?) is located there.




The Imperial Palace (Kyūden (宮殿?)) and the headquarters of the Imperial Household Agency are located in the former Nishinomaru enceinte of Edo Castle.[3]

The main buildings of the palace grounds, including the (Kyūden (宮殿?)) main palace, home of the liaison conference of the Imperial General Headquarters, were greatly damaged by fire in May 1945 during World War II. Today's palace consists of multiple modern structures that are interconnected. The palace complex was finished in 1968 and was constructed of steel-framed reinforced concrete structures produced domestically, with two storeys above ground and one storey below ground. The buildings of the Imperial Palace were constructed by the Takenaka Corporation in a modernist style with clear Japanese architectural references such as the large, gabled hipped roof, columns and beams.

The complex consists of seven wings, including:

  • Seiden State Function Hall,
  • Hōmeiden State Banquet Hall,
  • Chōwaden Reception Hall,
  • Rensui Dining Room,
  • Chigusa Chidori Drawing Room and
  • the Emperor's work office.

Halls include the Minami-Damari, Nami-no-Ma, multiple Kairo, Kita-Kurumayose, Kita-Damari, Syakkyo-no-Ma, Shunju-no-Ma, Seiden-Sugitoe (Kaede), Seiden-Sugitoe (Sakura), Take-no-Ma, Ume-no-Ma and Matsu-no-Ma.

The (Kyūden (宮殿?)) is used for both receiving state guests and holding official state ceremonies and functions. The Matsu-no-Ma (Pine Chamber) is the throne room, the emperor gives audiences to the prime minister here as well as to new or departing ambassadors.

Emperor Akihito greets the public at the Chowaden Reception Hall on his birthday, December 23, 2004

Each New Year and on the Emperor's birthday, the public enters through the Nakamon (inner gate) to the Kyuden Totei Plaza in front of the Chowaden Hall of the palace where the imperial family appears on the balcony to a jubilant crowd. The emperor normally holds a short speech greeting and thanking the visitors and wishing them good health and blessings.

Fukiage Garden

The Fukiage Garden carries the name since the Edo period and is used as the residential area for the imperial family.

The Fukiage Ōmiya Palace (吹上大宮御所 Fukiage Ōmiya-gosho?) in the northern part was originally the residence of Emperor Showa and Empress Kōjun and was called Fukiage Palace. After the Emperor's death in 1989, the palace was renamed Fukiage Ōmiya Palace where the Empress Dowager lived until her death in 2000.[4]

The palace precincts include the Three Palace Sanctuaries (Kyūchūsanden, 宮中三殿). Parts of the Imperial Regalia of Japan are kept here and the sanctuary plays a religious role.

East Garden

Pond in the East Garden at the Imperial Palace

The East Garden is where most of the administrative buildings for the palace are located and encompasses the former Honmaru and Ninomaru areas of Edo Castle, a total of 210,000 square meters. Located on the grounds of the East Garden is the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Music Department of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household, the Archives and Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, structures for the guards such as the Saineikan dojo, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.

Several structures that were added since the Meiji period were removed over time to have the East Garden constructed. In 1932, the kuretake-ryō was built as a dormitory for imperial princesses, this building was however removed prior to the construction of the present gardens. Other buildings such as stables and housing buildings were all removed for the East Garden in its present shape.

Construction work began in 1961 with a new pon in the Ninomaru, as well as the repair and restoration of various keeps and structures from the Edo period. On May 30, 1963 the area was declared by the Japanese government a "Special Historic Relic" under the Cultural Properties Protection Law.

Tōkagakudō (Music Hall)

Tōkagakudō (Music Hall)

The Tōkagakudō (Peach Blossom Music Hall,桃華楽堂) is located to the east of the former main donjon of Edo Castle in the Honmaru. This music hall was built in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Empress Kojun on March 6, 1963. The ferro-concrete building covers a total area of 1,254 square meters. The hall is octahedron in shape and each of its eight outer walls is decorated with differently designed mosaic tiles. Construction began in August 1964 and was completed in February 1966.

Ninomaru Garden

Suwa no chaya teahouse in the Ninomaru Garden

Symbolic trees representing each prefecture in Japan are planted in the northwestern corner of Ninomaru enceinte. Such trees have been donated from each prefecture and total of 260, covering 30 varieties.

Suwa no chaya

The Suwa no chaya is a teahouse that was located in the Fukiage Garden during the Edo period. It was once moved to the Akasaka Detached Palace after the Meiji restoration but was reconstructed in its original location in 1912. It was moved to the present location with the construction of the East Garden.

Most of the palace is generally off-limits to the public, except for Imperial Household Agency and the East Gardens. The inner palace is open to the public on two days each year, the Emperor's birthday and at New Year (January 2).


See also


  1. ^ Ian Cowie (August 06, 2004). "Oriental risks and rewards for optimistic occidentals". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  2. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard A. B. (1956). Kyoto: The Old Capital of Japan, 794-1869, p. 328.
  3. ^ Fukada, Takahiro, "Imperial Palace resides in otherworldly expanse: History abounds in cultural and religious preserve in heart of metropolis", Japan Times, January 20, 2010, p. 3.
  4. ^ "The Imperial Palace and other Imperial Household Establishments". Imperial Household Agency. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 

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