A note to the readership: I’ve started publishing all of my new travel-related posts in a separate blog, Within Striking Distance. You’re more than welcome to drop by over there and see where I’ve been jetting off to lately. (^_^)
Diego spends a few moments within the stately confines of the Emperor’s former home.
Note: This post is divided into four pages. Once you hit the end of each section, click on the link provided to move to the next part (or use the page numbers near the bottom to skip forward/back).
I had a slot reserved on the 10AM English guided tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace – easily obtained through the Imperial Household Agency’s official website – but, having woken up at the crack of dawn (as usual), I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. A morning stroll round the sprawling park that surrounds the palace compound helped to kill time and warm myself up for the walking tour.
To the east, one of the massive characters traditionally set aflame during the Gozan no Okuribi (Daimonji) festival can be seen high up on a hillside.
Facing the park is the imperial compound’s main gate, the Kenrei-mon, which was originally reserved for the exclusive use of the Emperor. (If the picture-book I purchased at the palace gift shop can be trusted, this is still the case today.) Even empresses and empresses-dowager couldn’t pass through this entrance; they had to use the Kenshun-mon gate on the eastern side.
The palace compound is surrounded by long stretches of tile-roofed earthen walls set upon stone bases.
These walls, which in the face of a besieging army would have been about as useful as a palisade of matchsticks, underscore the massive difference between the origins of the old imperial palace and its newer counterpart in Tokyo. The Emperor’s present residence is surrounded by miles of moats and massive stone-clad ramparts bristling with defensive towers, reminding visitors of its previous role as the formidable fortress of Edo Castle and onetime home of Japan’s supreme military leader. Here, the token moat and drainage canal around the palace wouldn’t have stopped a band of drunken geisha, much less a warlord’s crack troops – a reflection of the more refined, less openly martial atmosphere of the ancient capital and of the sprawling Heian-era Fujiwara mansion from which the present imperial compound evolved.
As the appointed time of the tour approached, the palace guards allowed us through the Seisho-mon gate and directed us to a nearby waiting room. On my way there, I stole a shot of the inner compound through an open gate.
After the group had assembled (quite large on that particular day – it was spring after all), an English-speaking tour guide gave us a brief introduction before we set out.
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