This is the fifth and final part of my series on the most interesting things to see in Tokyo, with numbers 11 & 12 on my list – but let’s be honest, even the final edition is never truly the end as I’ll always be adding new things. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading it!
11. Visit the Imperial Grounds – The Imperial Grounds in Tokyo is where the emperor and royal family of Japan reside – and no, you are not allowed inside the palace. You aren’t even allowed inside the grounds unless it’s during the two specified times of year and even then, it’s more of a herding event than anything else. Why would you want to go here then?
What you have to keep in mind is for centuries, the emperor was seen as a deity – descended from the gods that created Japan out of the ocean, he existed in a separate realm from the common person. It was not until the end of World War II when the emperor became a ceremonial figure only and was thoroughly demystified, which isn’t that long ago when you think about it. Visiting the grounds is like taking a step back in time to a long ago age and, even if you don’t believe in monarchies, a huge thrill.
Unless you visit during New Years or the Emperor’s birthday (like, a week before New Years) you aren’t getting inside the grounds – the best you’ll do is walk up to the gates and spy a few buildings and the giant moat. If you are lucky enough to get inside, you can marvel at the classical Japanese architecture and perhaps even see the Emperor himself as he addresses the public. If nothing else, the walk from Tokyo station is quite nice.
When to Visit: Any time, but the interior is only accessible Dec. 23rd (for the current emperor) and January 2nd for New Years.
12. Watch the People – The final point on my list is the simplest and can realistically be done from anywhere crowded (which is about 90% of Tokyo). I choose Shinjuku because as the business district and home to the busiest and biggest train station, you will see people from all walks of life. Best of all, it won’t cost a single yen.
Depending on the time of day you are here, you may see businessmen sleeping off a hangover on the street; people rushing to their commute that you can time down to when each train arrives and departs; tour groups looking up in awe of the buildings, crowds and signs; girls in strange costumes ranging from Little Bo-Peep to leather and spikes, holding hands; late night partygoers ready for a night on the town – and then the whole cycle repeats itself the next day.
No trip to Tokyo is complete without witnessing something that makes you stop and go ‘where the hell am I?’ so if you haven’t experience that yet, take an hour (it won’t take that long – trust me) and camp yourself out in Shinjuku, preferably by the station – or even on the train. You won’t regret it.
When to Visit: Any time – but particularly entertaining during cherry blossom season.