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Kyoto Imperial Palace

What is Kyoto Imperial Palace?

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former seat of power and residence of the emperor of Japan from 794 to 1869. It is located in Kyoto city, inside the Kyoto Imperial Garden (or Kyoto Gyoen).

Ever since the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, the Imperial Household Agency has taken up the task of preserving the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Today, they host public tours of the buildings several times a day.

Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest

Photo: Kunaicho

What to See

1. Shodaibu-no-Ma

The Shodaibu-no-Ma building was used as a waiting area for courtiers paying official visits to the palace. There are three rooms delegated respectively for the highest ranking visitors to the lowest ranking, arranged from east to west.

The highest ranking room is Toranoma (the Tiger Room). The second highest ranking room is Tsurunoma (the Crane Room), and the third one is Sakuranoma (the Cherry Room). These rooms are named after objects painted on their sliding doors.

Shodaibu-no-Ma in Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest Toranoma (the Tiger Room) | Japanesquest
Tsurunoma (the Crane Room) | Japanesquest Sakuranoma (the Cherry Room) | Japanesquest

2. Shishinden

Shishinden is the most important building on the palace grounds. It was the symbol of the Kyoto Imperial Palace and was used for important ceremonies, such as coronations.

Inside Shishinden, there are the imperial thrones of the emperor and empress, which were used during the coronation ceremony.

In front of Shishinden, there is an inner garden filled with white sand. In the garden, there is a cherry tree to the east and an orange tree to the west. This garden, like Shishinden itself, served an important role in ceremonies.

Shishinden in Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest

3. Seiryoden

Seiryoden was used as the Emperor’s residence until the Muromachi period in the 14th century. It is built in the traditional Shinden style, like Shishinden, but the floor is built much lower. Seiryoden also has many more internal partitions so that it is more appropriate as a residence for everyday living.

Seiryoden has a renowned place in Japanese literature. The best work of literature concerning it is The Tale of Genji from the 11th century, which describes court life in the Heian period in the 10th century.

Seiryoden in Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest

4. Oikeniwa Garden

The Oikeniwa Garden is a strolling garden. Its main feature is a large pond with an artificial shoreline toward the front and steppingstones across to a mooring place. There is the arc-shaped Keyakibashi Bridge, which stretches across the pond. You can enjoy this beautiful scenery from many different angles along the shore.

Oikeniwa Garden in Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest


The Kyoto Imperial Palace represents an eclectic yet harmonized combination of traditional architectural styles, such as the Shinden, Shoin, and Sukiya styles. It is also held in high regard as an important piece of Japan’s cultural heritage.

Kyoto Imperial Palace | Japanesquest

Did You Know?

did you know? | Japanesquest

Advance Reservations Are Necessary

To enter the palace grounds, you need to join the guided tours held by the Imperial Household Agency. There are two ways to book a tour.

1. Book at the Imperial Household Agency Office
You can book a tour with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency Office in the northwestern corner of the Kyoto Imperial Garden. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8:45 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00.

2. Book on the Agency’s Website
A small number of tour spots are also available for reservation on the agency’s website. Though, they often get booked up far in advance.

Hours Open:
Mostly Closed
Closed (including National holidays)
Other days:
Tours in English start 10:00am or 2:00pm
Advance reservations are necessary