Every Emperor of Japan has the right of inheriting the Imperial properties. The imperial family owns four palaces and numerous villas, which contain special significance in Japan’s history.
Some of the Emperor of Japan’s historic properties are accessible through the Imperial Household Agency’s guided tours. The historic value of other palaces makes them off-limits to the public.
The Emperor of Japan’s Imperial Palaces
The Emperor of Japan owns four imperial palaces, including the Imperial Palace Tokyo, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sento Palace, and Heijo Palace. These imperial palaces are known for their beauty and integral part in Japan’s history.
The Emperor currently resides in the Imperial Palace with his family. Despite his current residence, the other properties still play a major role in Japan’s functionality. The other palaces and properties will play a role in the Imperial family’s future health and current well-being too.
Visitors can enjoy a free tour from the Imperial Household Agency for any of the palaces. In addition to the historic buildings, the palace grounds are also home to rolling gardens, monuments, and other scenic views.
The Imperial Palace of Tokyo
The Imperial Palace, located in the Chiyoda district, is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. The palace combines modern and Edo-era architecture to show the progression of Japan’s modern technology.
Several buildings appear across the Imperial Palace grounds, including the Kyūden (main residence) and the famous East Gardens. All buildings in the Imperial Palace have undergone reconstruction over the years due to natural disasters and warfare damaging the initial structures. The buildings as they appear now are drastically different than their original design.
In the 15th century, Ōta Dōkan constructed a flatland castle called the Edo Castle. At the time, this was the largest fort of the feudal era. After the Meiji period came to a close, Edo Castle became hugely involved in the Meiji Restoration.
In the late 19th century, the remains of Edo Castle became the base structure for the Imperial Palace. During World War II, an air raid destroyed the Imperial Palace, followed by several natural disasters which would destroy the palace entirely.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former residence of the Imperial Family. The Imperial Family lived in Kyoto Imperial Palace before the competition of the Tokyo Imperial Palace at the end of the 19th century. Since the imperial family moved from Kyoto, the Kyoto Imperial Palace has been vacant.
In the late 19th century, the Japanese Emperor enacted a preservation order to protect the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Since the preservation order, the Kyoto Imperial Palace has been open to the public through daily Imperial Household Agency tours.
In the 17th century, Sento Palace was constructed to be the retirement palace of Emperor Gominzuno. As a result, Sento Palace then became a large garden of retirement palaces belonging to all subsequent emperors.
Most of these palaces and buildings in Sento Palace have burnt down due to fire. As a result, the Sento Imperial Palace is comprised mainly of beautiful gardens and stone architecture. The few standing buildings are tea houses and the Omiya Palace, which was rebuilt after burning down.
Google Map Location
Heijo Palace (also called Nara Palace) was the location of the Japanese Imperial capital during the 8th century. Heijo Palace is a recognized World Heritage Site with UNESCO.
Through most of the Nara period (710-794), Heijo-Kyo was the capital of Japan. The emperor of Japan lived in Heijo Palace, which led to this site becoming one of the World Heritage Sites of Nara in 1998.
None of the original buildings from the 8th century Heijo Palace remain. However, the reconstruction of several major shrines and gardens has recreated the old design relatively well. Excavated relics on display from the Heijo Palace grounds offer visitors a glimpse of Heijo Palace in its original state.
Application Page To Visit The Imperial Palaces
The Emperor of Japan’s Imperial Villas
Although the Imperial Villas are no longer in use, these imperial structures still hold immense historical value. Each villa was built especially for previous rulers, with architecture that speaks to their taste.
As the previous residences of the imperial families, the imperial villas are inaccessible to the public, aside from guided tours.
In the 17th Century, Emperor Gominzuno built the Shugakuin villa. The extensive land consists of several gardens and a villa dedicated to Emperor Gominzuno’s daughter, added only a decade after its original construction.
Technically, the Imperial Household Agency owns the Shugakuin Villa. The IHA also owns the excessive farmland surrounding the villa, which they rent to local farmers. The public can only access the Shugakuin Villa through guided tours.
Prince Hachijo Toshihito built Katsura Villa in the mid-17th century as a personal residence. Historians believe that settling in Katsura was inspired by the Tales of Genji, a classic piece of Japanese literature from the early 11th century.
The Katsura Villa features Old, Middle, and New Shoin styles, representing the architecture of the changing rulers. The Imperial Family allows tea ceremonies and seasonal visits by the public.
The Ninnaji (Ninna-Ji) temple was built in the 9th century as a summer home for the Emperor of Japan. The expansive shade and many trees make Ninnaji Temple a perfect place to escape the heat. No buildings from the 9th century stand today, but many buildings from the early 17th century still stand.
Multiple locations across the grounds include the Goten, the head priest’s former residence. Visiting these locations brings contentment and a sense of joy, especially during cherry blossom season when the flowers bloom.
Daikakuji Temple is one of the most cherished sites in Japan. Founded in the early 9th century, Daikankuji Temple was originally the home of Emporer Sage. After the Emperor’s death, Buddhist monks converted the palace into a temple.
The temple now contains rare relics and artifacts from the early 9th century, including the most popular “Heart Sutra” written by Emperor Saga. The popular Osawa Pond is also located in the Daikakuji temple too. This iconic pond is the oldest pond to survive the Heian period.
Buddhist monks, along with the Imperial Family, honor fallen emperors through public celebrations. The entertainment industry emphasizes the importance of Daikakuji Temple through the many films and literature which feature this iconic site.
Tamozawa Imperial Villa was constructed at the end of the 19th century as a summer residence for Emperor Taishō and the rest of the Imperial Family. After becoming vacant, Tochigi Prefectural Government converted the villa into a museum for remembrance.
The museum is open to the public with daily tours led by the Imperial Household Agency.
Post-renovation, the Tochigi Prefectural Government renamed the villa the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park.
As one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan to date, the Tamozawa Imperial Villa contains architecture reminiscent of the Edo and Meiji periods. These create interesting contrasts as you move through the large main structure.
During World War II, emperor Hirohito used Tamozawa Villa as a hideout. Currently, no members of the imperial family reside in the villa. It is open to the public as a memorial park with no option to stay overnight despite the many available rooms.
Enshrined emperors are arguably the most important cultural property of Japan. These shrines are permanent structures that offer the public an opportunity to connect with the former emperors.
There are thousands of shrines across Japan. The Usa Shrine, Meiji Shrine, Heian Shrine, and Kashihara Shrine receive the most recognition and a direct connection to the Imperial Family.
The Usa Shrine is an 8th-century shrine dedicated to Hachiman. The Usa Shrine consists of several layers, which lead to various structures like the Omotesando.
Meiji shrine is a modern shrine made for Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken at the beginning of the 20th century. The Meiji Shrine was destroyed during World War II from an aerial attack but was immediately restored. Currently, the Meiji Shrine is a park and museum.
The Heian Shrine commemorates the foundation of Kyoto. The shrine is dedicated to all emperors in the past, present, and future. The architecture resembles an Imperial Palace from the Heian period.
The Kashihara Shrine (also Kashihara Jingu) is a Shinto shrine built in the 19th century to enshrine Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu. During its construction, Emperor Meiji played an active role by donating two buildings from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
As the Emporer of Japan, you have many responsibilities and luxuries that many Japanese will never experience. For instance, there are many accessible properties made solely for imperial family use. Imperial family members often have palaces and temples constructed in dedication to their name.
The palaces, shrines, and properties associated with the imperial family are considered sacred places. Through the centuries, Japanese emperors have constructed their own sacred spaces, which have gathered historical value to Japan.
Members of the Imperial Family (Wikipedia)
The architecture of each building and its location speaks volumes about the Imperial Family’s history. Tourists can visit many of these stunning palaces, temples, and other structures dedicated to the emperors of Japan for free.
Virtual Walking Around Tokyo’s Imperial Palace In 4K/3D