Kitanomaru-kōen (Kitanomaru Park)

sights / Parks & gardens

Lonely Planet review

This large park north of the Imperial Palace grounds is home to noteworthy museums as well as the Nihon Budōkan , a legendary concert hall that has hosted acts from The Beatles to Beck; it was originally built for martial arts championships (judō, karate, kendō and aikidō) for the 1964 Olympics. These arts are still practised and exhibited here today.

Southeast of the Budōkan is Kagaku Gijitsukan , which features a good selection of exhibits aimed primarily at children and teenagers. There is little in the way of English explanations, but there is an excellent bilingual guidebook (¥200) available. Even without a guidebook or an understanding of Japanese, you can still stand inside a soap bubble and visit the ‘methane boy’ (he emits exactly what you think he emits).

In the south of the park, facing the Imperial Palace East Garden, is the Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan . The expansive collection here documents contemporary Japanese art from the Meiji period onward; there is a sense of a more modern Japan through portraits, photography and grim wartime landscapes. Its collection of more than 9000 works is arguably the best in the entire country.

The nearby Bijutsukan Kōgeikan , which stages excellent changing exhibitions of mingei crafts: ceramics, lacquerware, bamboo, textiles, dolls and much more.

The gate at the park’s northern end, Tayasu-mon , dates from 1636, making it the oldest remaining gate in the park. The area surrounding it along the moat explodes with cherry blossoms (and flower photographers) in spring.