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The imperial family still resides in the palace, so the general public is admitted to the grounds on only two days each year: on 2 January and 23 December. On these occasions, you might find it hard to compete with the many thousands of Japanese visitors who come to pay their respects.
The Imperial Palace’s East Garden is open to the public every day except Monday and Friday. From Otemachi subway station, you enter the gardens at the Otemon Gate and wander through hedgerows of white and pink azaleas, around ponds and little waterfalls edged with pines, plum trees, canary palms, and soft green cryptomeria you catch and occasional glimpse of the skyscrapers of modern Tokyo.
North of the garden, but still enclosed within the palace moat, the densely wooded Kita-no-Maru Park contains the redbrick Craft Gallery. Open every day except Monday, the gallery, housed in a Meiji-era building, is a first-rate introduction
to Japanese arts and crafts. Also, within the perk is the Science Museum, with interactive displays and hi-tech exhibits, and the distinctive Nippon Budokan, a martial arts hall.
If you walk in a clockwise direction around the palace this will bring you in the first instance to the pretty Nijubashi Bridge and then the Seimon Gate, where there is a public entrance to enter the palace's grounds.
You then pass the most prominent of Japan’s modern government buildings, the National Diet (Japan’s parliament) and the Supreme Court. A complete circuit would also include the National Theater, and the National Museum of Modern Art.
With a short detour, you can also take Yasukuni Jinja. Founded in 1869, this is the “Shrine of Peace for the Nation” dedicated to the souls of those who have died for Japan in battle. Besides the main hall and the hall of worship, the shrine complex includes a noh theater stage, a sumo wrestling ring, several teahouses, and the Yushukan museum of war memorabilia.
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