It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo with its pop culture, karaoke bars, shopping and fashion – and that’s just day one of your visit. For many who wish to experience a more traditional and cultural Japan, they look no further than Kyoto. Here you will find a city of 1.5 million people surrounded by breathtaking temples, shrines and castles. Located in the center of the city across from Doshisha University, you’ll find The Kyoto Imperial Palace and Gardens – a true treasure worth exploring. Luckily for visitors, there’s no entrance fee and no appointments or scheduling are required. For those who want a free tour, however, be sure to get there before 10am. As with everything in life, there’s a catch. Be prepared to have your tour time changed for the occasional dignitary visit.
The place is massive. It took me a few minutes walking down Karasuma-dori Street before finding an entrance. The palace and gardens are enclosed by long walls and gates. That didn’t stop me though as I had quite the itch to get there and explore. The staff are incredibly welcoming. You’ll be given a tag with a number on it (this helps so you aren’t locked into the area upon closing) and a detailed map. You better have a good pair of walking shoes on because you’ll definitely need them as the paths in the palace areas are made of gravel. Once you start venturing past the entrance gates you’ll find pure Japanese architecture in a truly serene setting. The palace buildings are quite impressive. Before you pounce through the room to grab your camera and head out of the hotel to get here, do note that entering any of the buildings is strictly prohibited. Many people tend to sigh about it, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying everything around me. Sure, it would be great to go inside some of these structures, but it’s still nice to walk around and observe the architecture. After walking along the path, you’ll come upon the beautiful Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. I couldn’t get over how immaculately manicured everything was. I guess you never know when a dignitary may pop in for a visit. Depending on the time of year, your pupils will dilate at the vast colors of the fall foliage or the stunning beauty from the sacura (cherry blossoms). In all there are more than 5,000 trees within the palace walls.
There was nothing like escaping from the stress of everyday life and just enjoying the sound of crickets and the wind in the trees. Such beautiful gardens set amidst a stunning landscape.
I found the Imperial Palace and Gardens to be utterly calming. In the winter, I would walk along the path and couldn't help but feel as if joy were wrapping me as if it was a blanket - and in that one moment, never was I so content. Sure, it may not be like some of the others sites in Japan, which can make your mouth drop and dislocate in awe, but it's an absolutely amazing place to unwind and just take in the majesty of nature and the beauty that is Kyoto.
It is what you make of it. There are plenty of benches to sit, take photos, read a book, meditate or even fall in love. Sometimes the best times in life are when you get lost amongst your surroundings, when you find yourself and what makes you makes you happy.