7 June 2016
Thanks to my travelling companion who made the reservation for our group, I managed to include a visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace into our itinerary. Visit to the palace is only possible via a free guided tour that requires prior registration at this website.
There were tours conducted in English and Japanese. The English language tour gets filled pretty quickly so we only managed to book a Japanese language tour starting at 9 AM. We reported to the designated meeting place 15 minutes before the advised start time and were quickly admitted after a check of our passport and registration.
We were ushered through the Seishoimon Gate and into a waiting room. Here we watched a video and slide presentation while waiting for the tour to begin. We were given a brochure with language of our choice, so we were able to follow the slide show that was presented in Japanese.
While waiting in the briefing room, I was fascinated by the branches of a drooping pine tree outside, providing sort of a natural screen for the door.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for a period of over 1000 years. In the old days, the imperial palace was frequently destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt again. While the palace was being rebuilt, the Emperor usually stayed at a temporary palace. The Kyoto Imperial Palace we visited was actually a temporary palace as the main palace was destroyed and rebuilt so many times that it was eventually abandoned and the current palace became the de facto palace. The current buildings were actually built in 1854 and survived till today.
There was light rain as we left the briefing room and followed the guide to the first stop of the tour route. The Okurumayose was the entrance used for official visits by courtiers who were granted permission to enter the palace grounds.
The guide spoke in Japanese and as expected we could not understand most of what he was saying. We have to stick with the group. Security was tight and any stragglers were quickly told to move along by the security personnel to keep up with the tour group. Although we were unable to explore the grounds on our own, the tour was an opportunity to see the grounds of the palace.
The Gekkamon (moon gate) and the Nikkamon (Sun gate) are the side gates of the courtyard surrounding the most important building in the Palace Ground. The Shishinden is the most important building on the palace grounds and is used for important ceremonies, including enthronement. It is the symbol of Kyoto Imperial Palace and enthronement ceremonies of Emperors Taisho and Showa were held here.
The main entrance to the courtyard is the Jomeimon Gate, through which the Shishinden can be seen.
Details on the roof structure of the Komeimon Gate
We were allowed to go through the Jomeimon Gate to have a closer look at the Shishinden Hall, but still from a distance.
The Shishinden is a one storey building, made of wood with roof made of hiwada (layers of cypress bark). The building is 37 m in width, 20 m in depth and 20.5 m tall. The tree in the right of the photo is a cherry tree and the tree on the left is an orange tree.
We came out of the Shishinden’s courtyard and walked pass the Shunkoden (building in the right side of the photo above). The shunkoden was built to place the sacred mirror on the occasion of the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Taisho in 1915.
The decor on the wooden door of the Shunkoden somehow looked like a figure “88”.
All this while, we were walking on gravel. I wonder if this is a deliberate design so that guards in the old days could hear people (especially intruders and ninjas) that were approaching the gates.
The guide then brought us to see the Seiryoden, located behind the Shishinden. The Seiyoden was used as the Emperor’s residence.
We were then led into the Oikeniwa Garden. This is designed as a strolling garden, with a large pond as its main feature.
There is an arc-shaped Keykibashi Bridge that stretches across the pond. This is a typical Japanese garden. It was nice but not the most impressive we have seen on this trip.
Another view of the bridge.
There is a second garden called the Gonaitei Garden further up, just outside a building called the Otsunegoten. This is the largest building on the ground, with a decorative roof structure.
The Otsunegoten has a room that stores the Imperial sword and seal. The Emperor formerly used to live in the Seiryoden but moved to stay in this building during the later stages before the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1869.
The Gonaitei Garden is very pretty. The Japanese has really mastered the art of garden design.
These leaves would be even more beautiful in autumn!
With views of a beautiful garden like those above, I would have preferred to stay at the Otsunegoten instead of the Seiryoden!
One last view of the palace before the tour group was led out to the Seishoimon Gate for our exit.