Five things you don’t want to miss in Japan’s capital
How to navigate central Tokyo with just an afternoon to spare
1 Imperial Palace and Gardens
When the weather is cooperating, the vast and immaculately sculpted grounds around the Imperial Palace are the perfect antidote to central Tokyo’s crowds. Still the official residence of the Imperial Family, the palace itself and the innermost grounds are off limits, except when the Imperial Family greets throngs of visitors (from a balcony from afar) for the Emperor’s birthday on December 23, and to welcome in the new year on January 2. The outer grounds, however, are open to the public and well worth an hour even if time is tight.
If that’s the case, go straight for the main photo op, the doublearched Nijubashi stone bridge that spans part of the moat. The bridge’s mirrored reflection on the water combined with the palace turret poking out of the woods behind it has become an iconic representation of old Tokyo.
With more time to spare, also stop by the East Gardens to take in the traditional landscaping, while if you are visiting in late March to early April, don’t miss the Kitanomaru Park area, where pink cherry blossom engulfs the banks of the Chidorigafuchi moat.
If you need a run away from a hotel treadmill, the palace has that, too – the five-kilometre loop skirting the grounds is one of the city’s most popular jogging spots. You get great views of the city and moats en route, and the entire five kilometres is uninterrupted by crossings or signals.
2 National Museum of Modern Art
Walk to the northern part of the Palace’s outer grounds for a dose of contemporary culture. Divided into two parts – the Art Museum and Crafts Gallery – the National Museum of Modern Art, also known as MOMAT, focuses on multiple genres from the early 20th century to the present, tracing the influences that both overseas and traditional Japanese culture have had on modernday art in the country.
To give an idea of the kind of special exhibitions you might find on a visit, exhibitions in 2018 have covered the dawning of contemporary art in Asian countries from the 1960s to 90s, as well as the work of influential Swedish designer and potter Ingegerd Raman – the latter including a look at Raman’s recent work with Japanese company Kimura Glass.
MOMAT is open 10am-5pm Tue-Thur and Sunday, until 8pm Friday and Saturday; entry is ¥500 (US$4.4);