After church yesterday we ventured into Tokyo again to visit the Imperial Palace, the home of Japan’s emperor and the imperial family. The palace itself is closed to the public for all but two days each year but the east garden is a popular spot for strolling and picnicking. We spent about an hour and a half wandering through the garden enjoying the sunshine and the peaceful surroundings.
The present palace occupies the site of the original Edo Castle from which the Tokugawa shogunate once ruled all Japan. In its time, the castle was the largest in the world but virtually all that remains of the original structure is the massive moat and the imposing stone walls.
Japan’s government is similar to the British parliamentary system. The emperor, considered divine until the close of World War II, has a role similar to that of Queen Elizabeth’s so in a sense, I suppose visiting the Imperial Palace is akin to visiting Buckingham Palace in London. Despite the fact that the emperor no longer holds the power that his predecessors once did, he is a figure of enormous respect in Japan. There was a definite police presence in the area and though admission to the east garden is free, visitors are issued a plastic token when they enter and return it to the entry kiosk when they leave to ensure that no one remains in the area after it closes at 5:00 p.m.
After leaving the garden, we strolled over to the elegant Nujibashi bridge where it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the actual imperial residence. From there, rather than retracing our path back to the train station we arrived at, we walked to another nearby station and returned home by a different route, stopping on the way for supper.
Perhaps what surprised me most about yesterday’s outing was the ease with which we can wander around a place like downtown Tokyo! The first couple of times that we went into the city seemed a bit intimidating and we were careful to keep track of where we’d been and how to get back to our station. Now, we’re much less concerned, realizing that we can find our way back from anywhere and knowing that when we’re unsure about how to do that, it’s easy to find help. The worst that can happen is that you get on the wrong train or one going in the opposite direction from what you had in mind. If that does happen, all you have to do is get off at the next stop and go back! As long as you don’t leave the stations, it doesn’t even cost anything. The price of a trip depends entirely on where you enter the system and where you leave, not on how many detours you take along the way.