Walking Tour: Imperial Palace Grounds & Marunouchi

  • Start Kudanshita subway station, exit 2
  • End Tokyo Station
  • Length 1.5km; two to three hours

From the subway exit, walk uphill and across the Ushiga-fuchi moat to Tayasu-mon. Dating from 1635, the northern gate to Kitanomaru-kōen was once part of the castle Edo-jō. Just inside the park is the Nippon Budōkan, a concert and martial-arts hall originally built for the 1964 Olympics (budō means 'martial arts'); it will be pressed into service again for the 2020 event.

Follow the road south branching off to the right to find the Crafts Gallery, a handsome recreation of a red-brick building that was once the headquarters of the imperial guards. Next, view some exceptional artworks at the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT); on the 4th floor, the 'Room with a View' provides a beautiful multi-layered panorama of your next destination: the Imperial Palace East Garden, with the towers of Ōtemachi and Marunouchi in the background.

Cross the Ōte Moat and enter the palace gardens via Kitahanebashi-mon, a drawbridge gate that was the principal entrance to Edo Castle's north side. Beyond the gate is Tenshudai, all that remains of the castle's donjon (main keep). Climb the stone base for views across the lawn towards the octagonal Tōkagakudō Concert Hall. Built in 1966 for the 60th birthday of Empress Kojun, the hall has a petal-shaped roof and outer scalloped walls covered with delicate murals made from ceramics and pottery shards.

Meander down the Bairin-zaka, a slope lined with more than 50 plum trees to the Ninomaru Grove, a woodland area that is one of the prettiest parts of the garden with a pond and the elegant Suwano-chaya teahouse.

Exit the gardens via the Ōte-mon, the old main gate to the castle. Across the road, next to the Palace Hotel is Wadakura Fountain Park; the two fountains here celebrate the weddings of the current and past emperor and empress.

Next to the park is the pedestrianised central reservation of ginko-tree-lined Gyoko-dōri. It provides the perfect frame from which to admire the elegant brick facade and twin domes of Tokyo Station.