A vast chunk of central Tokyo is occupied by the Imperial Palace, home to the emperor and his family. The surrounding public gardens provide a gentle introduction to the city, with a glance back to its origins as a castle town.
Huge and windswept, the Imperial Plaza forms a protective island in front of the Royal Palace itself. Follow the groups of local tourists straggling across the broad avenues to view one of the palace's most photgenic corners, Nijubashi, where two bridges span the moat and a jaunty little watchtower perches on its grey stone pedestal beyond. Twice a year (on Dec 23, the emperor's birthday, and on Jan 2) thousands of well wishers file across Nijubashi to greet the royal family . Apart from these two days, the general public is only admitted to the palace grounds on pre-arranged official tours.
The bridge in the photo was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived.
The finest of the fortress' remaining watchtowers, three-tiered Fujimi-yagura, now ornaments what is known as Higashi Gyoen or the East Garden. This is the only quarter of the palace proper that is open to the public. Another important and now, infamous, landmark in the Imperial Palace is Yasukuni-jinja (Yasakuni Shrine), which was originally founded in 1869 to worship supporters of the emperor killed in the run-up to the Meiji Restoration. Now, however, it is known for the war criminals enshrined here during World War II, honoured along with all the other military dead. Subsequent visits made to Yaskuni by politicians on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II continue to cause protests abroad.
Getting There: From subway Chiyoda Line Nijubashi-mae Station (No. 6 Exit), or from JR Line Tokyo Station (Marunouchi Central Exit).