This week I visited the Imperial Palace. Though the palace is one of the most famous landmarks in the Tokyo area, it still maintains its sense of cultural significance, which is often drained by heavily commercialization and tourism. The palace can be reached via the Tokyo Station, Japan’s busiest station with regard to the volume of trains in and out in a daily period. The station is located in the Chiyoda ward and within walking distance to Ginza ward. Tokyo Station is considered the main intercity rail terminal in Tokyo. In fact, when it was first opened, the station was simply known as “the central terminal.”
Prior to the Meiji Restoration, the Imperial Palace was known as Edo Castle (Edo being the former name of Tokyo).
This is a photo of the guard tower on the eastern wall, which captures a truly interesting aspect of Japanese culture: the seamless interweaving of modern and traditional forms.
The Imperial Palace’s perimeter is demarcated by a large moat and encased by a stone wall. The significance of this is easily understood in the context of the more tumultuous and war-oriented periods of Japanese history.
As I was walking down a stone path, I noticed many people gathered around a peculiar looking flower. A man told me they were called Higanbana (彼岸花 ), also known in the Western world as red spider lilies. Many people came specifically to see these flowers which were currently in bloom. I was told that the flowers are emblematic of the arrival of autumn and are therefore used as the central symbol of many fall festivals.
Based on my personal research, the flowers are also used as symbols in more ominous myths and legends of both Chinese and Japanese origin. They are associated with the death and the afterlife.
This is a photo of bamboo, one of the many plants cordoned off along the paths. I am amazed by the sheer amount of indigenous plants as well as the meticulous level of stewardship that goes into maintaining the dignity of these areas.
The Imperial Palace itself houses many buildings, museums, offices, and archives as well as a large park area where it is not uncommon to see people laying in the grass, throwing a frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, or having a picnic.
Near the park is an intricately designed building called the Tōkagakudō (桃華楽堂), also known as the Peach Blossom Music Hall, home to many concerts attended by the Imperial family.
So far, I am thoroughly enjoying my time in Japan, though my shortcomings as a Japanese language speaker preclude a high level of engagement, forcing me to remain as an onlooker. I have a considerable amount of work ahead of me if I wish to become fluent in the language and begin to get the most out of my time here. Luckily, my immersion in the culture pressures me from all angles to constantly use Japanese as the primary means to express myself. This is good and absolutely necessary for growth, though sometimes it elicits low levels of anxiety.