Tokyo Attractions: The Imperial Palace & Railway Museum of Japan

SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN TOKYO

Tired of the shops?  Here’s something different for tourists visiting the capital of Japan...

railway museum of japan
Part of the fun of visiting the Railway Museum is the chance to ride the Shinkansen!
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The Railway Museum of Japan 

For train buffs, there is the Railway Museum, which provides an excellent collection of railroad cars and engines used throughout the history of Japan Rail.  There are some very interesting historic engines from the 1800’s, built in Pittsburgh, USA and Leeds, UK, plus some restored, historic train cars that one can actually visit and view, including carriages from the Imperial Train used by the Emperor of Japan.  


railway museum of japan
First Class on Japan Rail in the 1920's and 1930's.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
railway museum of japan
Kids enjoying an outing to the Railway Museum and seeing how their forefathers travelled.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
A highlight is a visit to one of the original Bullet Train engines, which are now 50 years old.  According to its brochure, the museum was created as part of commemorative programs celebrating the 20th anniversary of Japan Rail East.  It provides education, focusing on history of railways in Japan where visitors can experience, feel, and learn about the history and technology of railways.

railway museum of japan
Two train sets are designated for those who bring their own food and drink.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

railway museum of japan
Try your hand at starting and stopping the wheels just like an engineer does!
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The museum not only is interesting for adults who like trains, but for kids as well.  And there is a special train for kids to ride that is a miniaturized mock up of the current Shinkansen.  Also, food is available and special bullet train shaped plates are available for kids.  And for those who bring their own food, there are two actual train sets available for people to sit, relax, and enjoy their meals.

railway museum of japan
Food service is available and the food is good!
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

railway museum of japan
Kids version of the Shinkansen.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Admission to the Railway Museum costs Y1,000 for adults and Y800 for children.  Getting there can also be part of the fun because you can take a short 30 minute ride on the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Umiya Station where it is a short hop of one station by the New Shuttle train.  Purchase tickets at Tokyo Station’s entrance where there is a ticket office that accepts major credit cards. The people are also very helpful. Signs in English are plentiful and are easy to read.  In case you miss the signs, people are very helpful in giving directions and assisting.  More information about the museum, access to it, and other useful matters are available at: www.railway-museum.jp

railway museum of japan
Kids version of the Shinkansen - adults can go along for the ride, too.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

railway museum of japan
A steam engine built in 1880 in Pittsburgh, PA, USA that served on Japan's railways.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The Railway Museum is really a great place for kids to burn off their energy and enjoy themselves as is evidenced by the number of school kids enjoying an outing to the place.  It is safe and secure and adults do have the opportunity to relax. Keep in mind -- it is also fun for adults!

railway museum of japan
The latest first class on Japan Rail called Gran Classe.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

railway museum of japan
The New Shuttle train between Omaya Station and the Railway Museum.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
railway museum of japan
Gran Classe detail - comfortable, indeed!
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
railway museum of japan
The original Bullet Train maintained in the Railway Museum.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

The Tokyo Imperial Palace

For those wanting to get a glimpse behind the moat and walls of the Palace of the Emperor of Japan, this is the thing to do.  Better still, it is free.

tokyo imperial palace
Pre-entry checking of authorizations.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
tokyo imperial palace
Entering via the Kikyomon Gate.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The Imperial Palace is located right in the heart of Tokyo on the grounds of the former palace of the successive Tokugawa Shoguns.  In 1808, Emperor Meiji moved to this location from Kyoto where the imperial residence was located for more than a thousand years.  Since that time, this is where the Emperor has resided.  It is a working palace and it is here where the Emperor carries out his duties and functions.  Free guided, walking tours are offered on most days of the year.  


tokyo imperial palace
Headsets with pre-recorded information for English speakers.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

tokyo imperial palace
Fujimi-yagura (Mt. Fuji Keep)
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The tours do require advance registration (up to two months prior) via the Imperial Household Agency’s web site at: www.sankan.kunaicho.go.jp   Full details of the tour, its times, and other palaces open for public visits are available at that site.  Authorization for the visit follows registration and it is sent to your email address very promptly.

tokyo imperial palace
A new ambassador comes to present his credentials to HIM the Emperor.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

tokyo imperial palace
Kunaicho Chosa (The Imperial Household Agency Building).
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The tour is expertly guided, albeit in Japanese.  For English speakers, headsets are available on a limited but free basis and during the tour, the guide will advise which channel to select for the appropriate commentary.  The tour takes about 1 ½ hours and one needs to be on time, or be left behind.  No building interiors are visited as this is a place where official functions take place.
The palace grounds are beautifully maintained and a number of historic and interesting locations are seen during the walk.  


tokyo imperial palace
North Entrance, reserved exclusively for the Imperial Family.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
tokyo imperial palace
Kyuden-totei plaza and the Chowaden Hall of the Imperial Palace where the Emperor carries out his work.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
The walk itself is about 2-3 km, quite easy for most, but walking shoes are recommended.  Assistance, in the event of any urgency, is available throughout and photographs are permitted.  At the beginning of the tour, just after entering via the Kikyomon Gate, visitors are escorted to the Someikan (Visitor’s House) where refreshments, souvenirs, and a brief overview of the tour is given by video with English subtitles.  The tour proceeds from this point, returning visitors to the Kikyomon Gate.

tokyo imperial palace
Hasuikebori (Lotus Moat) and Defense House in the background.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

tokyo imperial palace
Overview of the Imperial Palace and its immense grounds.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
I found the guides to be friendly and very helpful. The main trick to enjoying this visit (or a visit to any other of the palaces) is to register in advance, be on time, and wear walking shoes.  Some recommendations: take a taxi from your hotel to near the Kikyomon Gate, wear a hat, and bring an umbrella if the sky looks threatening.

-Tamarind Walk

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