Kyoto Imperial Palace

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.

Heian

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.

6 tips for travelling in Japanese cities

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Some people, especially those from Western cultures, might find Japan so different from their own country that it can be quite overwhelming. That said, it is also a fascinating place, so it’s certainly worth a visit. Here are my six tips for travelling in Japanese cities to help you feel ready and excited for your Japanese adventure.

Safety

Japan is known as one of the world’s safest countries. However, this lulls a lot of tourists into a false sense of security and they make the mistake of not being alert. Although the crime rate is incredibly low, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Remember, if you don’t look Japanese, you’ll stand out, and if anyone wants to target a tourist they’ll know who to look for. Keep your usual travelling wits about you and you’ll be just fine!

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Events

There is always something fun going on in Japan, so before you head out there make sure you look at what will be happening while you are staying. For example, the Sakura Blossom Season – the opening of the cherry tree flowers at the Yasukuni temple– is a sight to behold.

Not only is it good to know when the events are so that you can partake, but it will also help you choose when to take your trip. For example, Golden Week in April is one of the busiest times in the country’s calendar, so it might be good to avoid visiting then if you don’t want to battle crowds.

Cash

Although you might assume that a technology-savvy country like Japan would be cashless, it’s actually the opposite. Many places will not accept credit cards, so having cash on you is a big advantage. Money from 1 yen to 500 yen is in coin form, so a coin purse will be more useful than a wallet.

If you want a cheap but filling meal, head to a convenience store, as you can get something heated up for you for around the equivalent of $5, which is ideal if you don’t want to stop but need to pick up lunch to eat on the go. The further away you go from the train station, the cheaper you can expect things to be, so don’t buy your souvenirs from the first place you see.

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Public transport

Japan is known for their clean and efficient train service. However, if you want to save money, buses are likely to work out cheaper. For a 3, 5 or 7 day pass, you are looking at around ¥10,000 – ¥15,000 ($88-$133 USD), with it being cheaper midweek. This will allow you to jump on any bus within a two month period.

Some of the buses are even designed for overnight travel, with the seats reclining and looking like small pods, which allow you to sleep on them and save on accommodation for a night. A rail pass, on the other hand, can cost around ¥30,000 – ¥40,000 ($266-$355 USD) for a 7-day pass.

Food

Depending on what type of person you are, Japanese food will either be the most exciting or most intimidating part of your trip! Fast food in Japan usually consists of green tea, rice, savory meats, crispy dumplings, and miso soup, and is very affordable for an everyday meal.

According to The Secret Traveller blog on 1Cover, Tonkotsu Ramen is basically an art form– and a food worth traveling for. Try some out if you get the chance!

Timing and seasons

Another thing to consider when deciding when to visit Japan is the weather. Japan has very distinct seasons, Spring (March to May), Summer (June to August), Autumn (September to November) and Winter (December to February), with each having their own pros and cons.

Spring is very popular with tourists, due to the warm weather and beautiful cherry blossoms. However, summer hosts a lot of festivals and is great for visiting the beach, even if the weather is a little humid. Autumn is stunning with the colourful leaves, but September is typhoon season, so it’s best to avoid that. Finally, with winter, you can enjoy snow-based activities such as skiing or snowboarding.

Hopefully, these tips will help you with travelling in Japan. If you’ve been on the fence about visiting, trust me when I say you absolutely should! So what are you waiting for? Grab your passport and camera, and get booking.

Have you ever been to Japan? Leave your best tips in the comments.