The Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyōto Gosho), was the official imperial family residence until 1869 when the capital of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Palace is surrounded by a huge garden area (1300 meters long and 700 meters wide) where it is a pleasure to walk. The whole compound was walled and many noble families (Mainly the Fujiwara and Saito families) lived inside, but after the capital was moved, the outer walls where removed and converted to public gardens.
Nowadays most of the areas of the Kyoto Imperial Palace are open to visitors but some others are still closed and only opened and used for enthronement ceremonies (When the Emperor changes). The Shishinden (紫宸殿, Hall for State Ceremonies) is the name of the area used for the enthronement ceremonies, this is how it looks like:
Notices the huge open gravel area in front of the hall, this empty space is designed based on the shinto tradition (Ise Shrine). Areas with “nothing” are as important as the buildings themselves. To access the hall, which is elevated over the ground (Emperors are supposed to be above things), there is a wooden staircase with 19 steps (Number of steps to go to heaven).
Also, notice the two trees on both sides of the staircase. The treen on the left is a cherry tree called “Sakon-no-sakura” , and the one on the right is a tachibana orange tree called “Ukon-no-tachibana”.
This is a different view of the Shishinden:
The current Kyoto Imperial Palace was built according to the original previous Heian Palace (Does not exist anymore), which at the same time was designed following the maps of Ise Shrine. Notice how in the previous Heian Palace, there was also place on both sides of the Shishinden staircase for the two trees.
The legend tells us that shortly after the Emperor Kanmu started living at the Imperial Palace (Heian Palace in those times: 781 until 806) he decided to plant a plum tree next to the Shishinden. When he died 40 years later, the next Emperor planted another tree. Later, on an occasion when the Emperor was giving a big banquet to his attendants he took flowers from the plum tree and with them he decorated the hair of the crown prince. With the passing time these trees became sacred and when they died of age they were always replanted in the same location.
Even though the city has been destroyed and rebuilt several times there has been a constant in Kyoto over the centuries: there has always been a plum tree in the spot that was first selected by Emperor Kanmu.
Recommended visit time: half a day, or even a whole day. A good idea is to eat picnic in the garden area, during the sakura bloom time it is beautiful. Together with the Imperial Palace there other 3 imperial properties Kyoto: the Katsura Rikyu, the Sento Gosho, and the Shugaku-in Rikyu. To visit all of them you might need up to two days.
Admission fee: free.
Open: from 9AM until 5PM.