After a good breakfast to fuel us through the morning we head down to the palace – well as best I can as something has not agreed with me and wants to be out as soon as possible. No major issues and we present ourselves for the Imperial Palace tour at the Kikyomon gate. This tour is free, but you need to book ahead to confirm names, numbers etc and not just rock up. You can book up to the day before, which is okay at this time of year, but will be a problem when it is warmer.
Even before the tour when we passed through the Kikyomon gate, the battlements are something to behold. The palace is circled by moats, with large rock walls rising out and up to the palace ground level some 10 to 20 metres above. The corners are dovetailed together with huge dressed blocks, and the walls in between are huge boulders coarsely matched to create a formidable barrier.
The tour starts with instructions given, understood and signed for. For the gaijin, there is a audio tour available to keep up with the explanations. My audio tour did not seem to have the jokes the guide was telling, or maybe they just did not translate well.
Once inside the main walls, the grounds are groomed to the minutest detail with bushes and hedges trimmed just so, and the pines shaped and plucked to their most pleasing presentation. These frame our first sight, the Fuji – yagura (Mt Fuji view keep), an impressive tower looking over the front moats.
Mt Fuji view keep, Imperial Palace
Past some non descript buildings that were the temporary Palace, we go up the hill to the real thing. The Palace had to be rebuilt in the 50s after the fire storms in WW2. The architect has done very well, creating a very understated facade that is quite timeless. The long balcony from which the Royal family greet everyone on New Year’s day stretches 100 metres and behind it is the Chowaden hall. The roof is copper which has gone green over the years to resemble so many traditional roofs.
We headed past the palace to head down across nijubashi from where we can see Fushimi yagura, a keep moved here from Kyoto centuries ago. It is very picturesque and many photos are taken by all, with plenty of ducking and weaving as we all go for the best angles and not get in each other’s way. We head back across in front of the Palace, but closer this time so we get to appreciate some of the details better. We then loop around the north side to see some more of the gardens before heading back out to the start. It has been over an hour, and well worth doing to see so much more than circling outside.
Now we head over to the East gardens. The winter weather means that this is not as exciting as at other times of year, but you do get a strong idea of what the Edo palace was like centuries ago. The set out of the gardens is still apparent, and some of the tea houses dotted around show up well against the bare trees.
Tea House, Palace gardens
The old tower base and fortifications bear witness to the craftsmen’s skills at working stone.
As we depart the gardens we try out another Japanese taste sensation, a hot strawberry flavoured tea from a vending machine. Hmmmm....
We head over to Daimaru on the other side of Tokyo station. We look at a map on the way which gets us attention as yet again someone stops to help. We have been helped many times by many different people from a broad cross section of ages.
In Diamaru we have a brief look about but we are really focussed on getting some food from the basement food court. We all pick up a selection, but then the issue is where to eat it – this is designed to take back to the office or work. So we indelicately prop somewhere and eat up, and it is really good.
After this L insists we bore her again and we head back to Akiba and look at models!! After leaving me with all the cash at my favourite, Leonardo’s, it is an hour before we get out again, and head off to the next shop and the next and the next... We meet up at a Starbuck’s for large serves of hot sweet stuff. I want to go to an Unagi (eel) restaurant – there are a couple not far from our hotel, but as we search around for them it is soon apparent that they are closed. G suggests a place nearby, and we head in to a small place with a central cooking/preparation area with a bar around that we sit up at. With our very fluent Japanese pointing and miming, and the restaurant phrase in the back of the guide book, we work out some food. This is all cooked on a little charcoal brazier, and we have piping hot chicken teriyaki, pork belly, chicken balls as well as some tuna sushi and hot sake.
It is all delicious and we sort have a discussion about us coming to Japan for skiing and how we have been to Tokyo before but not Asakusa. After this we head back to the hotel and sleep.