We departed NAF Atsugi at 07:37 and arrived at approximately 9 o’clock in Tokyo Imperial Palace. It was 6 °C cold but the sun was immensely bright which helped warm the ground and things up a little. It was a beautiful day for the birthday celebrant, Emperor Akihito as he turned 81 that day. Emperor Akihito is the 125th Emperor of Japan.
The main gate to the Imperial Palace was still closed when we arrived. The tour guide informed us that there were no toilets within the premises of the Inner Palace so, we were advised to use the toilet as much as possible. After everyone was finished, together we walked towards the Seimon Ishibashi Bridge leading to the main gate of the inner palace grounds. The inner palace grounds are generally not open to the public. Visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family on a veranda only every January 2nd and December 23rd of the year.
Going to the inner palace grounds, we had to get by the tight security measures to ensure safety of the people especially the Imperial Family. There was a bag size restriction and visitors were limited to bring small purse only. Drinks of more than 8 oz are not allowed. The level of security is literally like going to the airport. After the security screening, flags of Japan were given by young Japanese boy scouts and girl scouts with smiles and greetings.
At 9:30, they opened the gate to the Imperial Palace and a large crowd started to flow and pile up on the bridge. Although crowded, the discipline of Japanese people and tourists was impressive. There was also a noticeable group in nice colorful uniform ahead of us which reportedly were tourists from Taiwan. They seemed to provide strong support to the Emperor.
It was merely a 5-minute walk from the main gate to the largest building of the Palace, the Chowaden Reception Hall. The hall has a bulletproof veranda where the Japanese Emperor and other members of the Japanese Imperial family stand and appear in public. Upon reaching the front of the Chowaden Reception Hall, we had to wait until 10:20, the first appearance of the Emperor.
The prevalent population in the crowd was the elderly Japanese people and foreigners. It was indeed jam-packed. And all of a sudden during the wait, I understood the level of the security imposed from the entrance and the implementation of the bag size limit to avoid shoving people in crowd. At exactly 10:20, the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Family appeared on the veranda of the hall. The crowd broke out with loud cheers and waves of Japan flag. Dozens of people started taking their cameras out to snap pictures of the Emperor and the Imperial Family.
I attentively looked at the Emperor, his wife Empress Michiko, and the rest of the Imperial Family before blending with the crowd. The gracious fashion of the Imperial Family members were mesmerizing. The family members who appeared in public were Prince and Princess Akishino and their eldest daughter Princess Mako, who’s also the first-born granddaughter of the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Naruhito, the Crown Prince and his wife Masako, the Crown Princess of Japan were also present.
The message was, of course, in Japanese. But with the help of our tour guide, she gladly narrowed down the Emperor’s message. He wishes that Japan people should continue to strive to a better Japan in the future and hopes that the support from the neighboring countries and countries all over the world be stronger and stable. And the crowd cheered louder. As the message ended, the Imperial Family waved to the crowd with their sincerest smile. During this event, I noticed the deep love and support of the the elderly Japanese people in front of me to the Imperial Family. I couldn’t do anything but be touched by their sincerity and watched their delightful faces as they waved back to the Imperial Family. Oh, were they ever so happy.
After the meet-and-greet with the Emperor and the Imperial Family, it was followed by a short tour to the remaining buildings of the Palace. The Fujimi-yagura Guard Tower was the highlight of all the building attractions. The keep was destroyed by the great fire in 1657 and was reconstructed two years after. And in 1923, it was again destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake, repaired and restructured into its original form.
The weather remained the same when we toured the rest of the Imperial Palace Gardens. There were some Cherry Blossom trees that still has its flowers which seemed to be an expression of warm wishes to the Emperor’s Birthday. At 11:30, we went back into the tour bus to get ready for the next destination — The Tokyo Tower and Meiji Shrine. A separate post will be put up soon for that.
I went to work the day after and told my Japanese co-workers about it. They were amazed and told me that, “I am more Japanese than them” as they’ve never been to the Emperor’s Birthday. Attending the Emperor’s Birthday was truly a wonderful and interesting experience as I shared with them.
On January 2, 2015, the inner palace grounds will be opened again to the general public for the Emperor’s New Year’s Greeting. If you are traveling to Tokyo now until to this date, you should not miss this opportunity to see the Emperor and the Imperial Family members. This tour, however, is not recommended for young children due to the expected large crowd.
I hope you enjoyed reading my experience with the Emperor’s Birthday and plan to attend this tour whenever you’re in Japan!
The Emperor’s Birthday tour was part of NAF Atsugi Tours (ITT). I only grabbed the tour ticket the night before from a nice lady at the base because her family had changed plans. She sold it to me at a price that’s half of the retail price. I was very grateful to her who made this tour possible for me.