One of the reasons why you should visit Japan during winter is to have an ” imperial” experience. Unlike other royal families, Japanese imperial family rarely appear in public. If you are in Tokyo during the New Year, join the crowd for the annual Visit of the General Public to the Palace ( as per Imperial Household Agency) every January 2nd, with the reigning emperor of Japan addressing the public.
The Emperor ( in our case, Emperor Akihito) gave just over a minute of New Year Greeting, but the whole event will give you an immersion on how organized and disciplined the Japanese are. This is also one of the rare moments that the inner gardens of the Imperial Palace are open to the public.
Here is a short video of the whole event. You can hear Emperor Akihito’s address at 0:46 of the video.
This year, Emperor Akihito will abdicate and if you are planning to witness 2019 New Year event in Tokyo, it will with current Crown Prince Naruhito. It is not the usual meet and greet, though it is safe and more comfortable compared to other mass events, but here are some things you need to expect and do before you join the crowd to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
There are 5 greetings, divided into different time slots starting at 9:30 with the last one at 2:10. Some would say it will take 45 minutes to get in but due to the number of people, we were waiting for almost 2 hours ( or more). Don’t wait for the 2:10 schedule, come early. It might get crowded and you’ll be grouped to the next time slot. My family planned the 1:30 but it we got the last slot.
I’ve never seen so many policemen and security in Japan. After all, it is the Imperial family appearing together. There were many uniformed and I’m sure on the cover security team, ensuring the safety not just of the Imperial family but that of the public.
The family appears on that bulletproof balcony of the Palace’s East Plaza.We were informed that it used to be open and everyone can have a glimpse of the emperor and his family. We only saw their reflection especially with Empress Michiko’s signature bun.
Imperial guard ( not sure of the title) at the main gate.
Allot at least half of your day
Transit from your accommodation to the Imperial Palace ( nearest station is Tokyo Station), add the waiting and the exit, the New Year greeting with the emperor of Japan can eat at least 3 hours of your day. Plan something flexible if you wish to explore Tokyo after the New Year Greeting with Japan’s emperor.
Don’t bring bulky bags and travel luggages
We saw some tourists tagging along their luggages and we witnessed that they were escorted away. So please leave your luggages and trolleys in your hotels or in station lockers. These luggages can hamper the flow of the people coming into Imperial Palace and waiting with big bags can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. Personally, I think it can add more work for the security as big bags and luggages can be suspected of carrying explosives.
Bring unopened bottled water
I’m not pretty sure about this but I saw one woman who was asked to drink all the contents of her bottle at the security check point. However, while waiting ( when everyone seems to have started answering the call of hunger and thirst), I saw one man opened a bottle of iced tea. So to be save, bring unopened bottle.
Eat a hearty meal
You’ll never know how many people are going to the event so fuel up. A German couple had to excuse themselves because they were too famished. Seeing them walk away made me thanked myself that we enjoyed our breakfast at New Sanno Hotel.
After hours of waiting, we found our spot. The security let our kids stay in front. Elderly and pregnant women are wheel chaired to the front. This was the only time that I had more time to take photos.
Come with an empty bladder
Don’t expect for a portable toilet within the Imperial Palace. They are too ugly for the Japanese. Toilets are located at the exit, therefore, you can only take the loo after the event.
You can leave the crowd if you want to
Crowds are grouped and between groups is this small area. See the policeman? That lane is specifically for those who wish to “retreat”. We saw a few people who (like the German couple) had to pass. This is an organized and convenient just in case.
It is hard to take photos
As a blogger, I wanted to take more photos but it is really hard. You can see how shaky my clips are. There is no way you will stop and it is best to just etch those images of the Imperial Palace in your memory. Yeah, refrain from taking selfies – goes without saying that you must leave your selfie stick. And yes, drone is not allowed in Japan unless you have special permission. If you clog the flow of traffic, the imperial security wont hesitate to pull you out.
After the New Year address, it is not time for some picnic within the walls of the Imperial Palace. People leave slowly giving you more time to see what’s inside the Imperial Palace. It’s nice to observe every detail since there is a small chance you can do it again when you’re in Tokyo.
We passed this government building on our way to the exit. I think Shinzo Abe and the ministers hold office here.
I was one of the last people to leave the Imperial grounds because I want to take more photos at the gate. They were not friendly but not scary either – just the usual Japanese temperament. They let me take some souvenir photos of the gates, therefore I’m happy!
I recommend this event for those who will be in Japan ( Tokyo to be exact) on the first week of January. It was on top of my things to do in Japan and I’m happy my family joined me that day. Banzai!