In July I traveled to Japan and spent a month going south along the coast, on what was once the Tokaido Road, today the Tokaido Railway. When I reached Osaka, I made a detour to go north to see Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. I had heard of the imperial palace in Kyoto, and I imagined the palace would be something like the Ottoman palace in Istanbul, or the Forbidden City in Beijing. That is, I imagined a tour through myriad rooms with splendid objects. When I arrived at the palace, I found this preconception was much mistaken.
First of all, the imperial palace today remains an imperial palace. The Emperor of Japan resides in the palace on his visits to Kyoto, and the palace remains a place for receiving important visitors. Therefore, you can’t just walk up to the imperial palace and buy tickets. Entrance is free, but you must sign up in advance for a tour at a specified time and place.
In Heian times, the emperor resided in a true palace built at a location determined by Chinese astrology and rebuilt after every fire. However, a custom developed in which the emperor would live in the houses of great nobles, and over time the palace fell into disuse, and after it burned down some 800 years ago was never rebuilt. The current Kyoto imperial palace was thus once the home of a great noble. The palace burned down in the late Edo period and was immediately rebuilt in the same historicizing style. After the capital and the emperor moved to Edo (Tokyo) in the late 1800s, the palace fell into disrepair for a spell before the emperor ordered it restored. The large complex is today mostly gardens. The heart of the complex, where the emperor lived, is the palace I visited.
I took the Japanese tour. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter any of the buildings or approach the main hall, but I enjoyed a walk through the grounds where the imperial court made history.
Below are my photos of the palace.