Mr. Selfish and I decided to visit the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle during our stay in Kyoto. We didn’t really know much Japanese history but it was still interesting to see the palace and the castle.
Apparently, in 1600, the Tokugawa Shogunate seized power and established a military government in what is now Tokyo. During this time period, the role of the emperor was largely symbolic since the shogun controlled foreign policy, the military, and feudal patronage. Although the government was in Tokyo, the shoguns still frequented Kyoto since it was home to the Imperial Court. Hence, the shoguns built Nijo Castle, which is quite close to the Imperial Palace.
Mr. Selfish and I toured the Imperial Palace first. You can only visit the palace through a tour, which is offered in English or Japanese. You have to bring your passport to the tour office and sign up. We were lucky in that we showed up about 20 minutes before an English tour was to begin and were able to join that tour.
You can’t enter any of the buildings of the palace, but the grounds are beautifully kept and you can get quite close to the buildings.
The last part of the Imperial Palace tour takes you through two scenic gardens.
The tour lasted about an hour, and I had difficulty understanding the tour guide since her accent was quite strong. Moreover, we had about 100 people in our tour group, which is rather large. But, it was a free tour, so I can’t really complain.
Next, we visited Nijo Castle, which was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. Admission into Nijo Castle is 600 yen, and this includes a tour the inside of Ninomaru Palace, which was the official residence and office of the shogun during his stay in Kyoto. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside.
The grounds of Nijo Castle are quite scenic. There is a pond with many rock formations. Finally, after climbing a few steps, there is a decent view of the castle from above.
If you are interested in Japanese history, I highly recommend visiting the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. Both places are rich with stories and history of the shogun and the emperor.