The Imperial Palace (K?kyo), surrounded by a series of moats and high walls, is the official residence of the Japanese imperial family. This is the most expensive square kilometre in the world, which during the height of Japan's bubble was estimated to be worth slightly more than California. Unfortunately, the inner palace gardens and buildings are closed to the general public except on January 2 and December 23, when the imperial family makes a public appearance.
However, foreigners can also apply online (http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english) to join a free guided tour (daily at 10 AM and 2 PM). If you're feeling lucky, you can also try just showing up at the Imperial Household Agency office located in the northwest corner of the Imperial Palace Park, which is open 9 AM-noon, 1-2 PM; if there's space, you can join a tour on the same day.
Tours are conducted only in Japanese, but electronic audio guides (in English) will be lent to foreign visitors free of charge. At the end of the tour, visitors wishing to enter the East Gardens (see below) will be given entrance cards and allowed through to the gardens via a private gate, allowing them to bypass the lines at the main ?te-mon entrance; pay attention to the announcement in Japanese and queue up as directed.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public daily except Mondays and Fridays. Kept in impeccable shape, the gardens are particularly beautiful during the March and April plum and cherry blossom seasons. Entrance is free through a number of gates; you will be given a plastic entrance card at the gate, which you are obliged to return upon leaving; most visitors use the ?te-mon gate near the ?temachi subway station (exit C10). Also an easy walking distance from Tokyo station.
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