If I were to say, “We went to the Marunouchi area of Tokyo today,” your response might have been, “Huh?! Where’s that?” or “What’s in that area?”… So I probably should just start this off by saying that the Marunouchi area of Tokyo houses one of the most symbolic places in Japan… The Imperial Palace!
The Imperial Palace is the geographical and spiritual heart of Tokyo, and has been the center of national affairs since 1600, when Tokyo was a small bayside city called Edo. We happened to be at the Imperial Palace during a very important time. January 2nd is one of ONLY two dates throughout the year where the inside of the Imperial Palace is open to the public, and we took this great opportunity to visit on this date (the other date being the Emperor’s birthday). January 2nd is the date in which the Emperor of Japan makes an appearance to the public. At about four different times throughout the day, the Emperor will address the Japanese citizens with a short speech for only a couple of minutes. Public addresses by an Emperor only goes back to 1948. The current Emperor is the 125th by traditional order of succession.
There are thousands and thousands of people who line up for this event all day to catch a glimpse of the Emperor and to hear his words of inspiration for the New Year. Upon arriving near the Palace grounds, we had to go through a baggage check, a pat-down, and a metal detector, only to continue waiting in line to make it inside. It only took about an hour or a little more to reach the opening where we waited to see the Emperor, which wasn’t bad at all. Thank goodness we went in the morning! After we had left, there were lines going up to the palace from the city streets! But to be a part of this Japanese tradition was completely worth everything that we went through to get inside and see!!
Inside, we waited for about 10 minutes before the Emperor’s next appearance came. He appeared in a small glass-enclosed case, surrounded by his family and their family. As the royal family made their appearance, everyone in the crowd started cheering loudly and waving around a paper Japanese flag that was handed out in at the entrance. The excitement was almost overwhelming! It was so crowded and there was a lot of pushing going around, but none of it was aggressively done. People were just trying to get as close as they could, take pictures, or just move to see around people’s flags or over their heads. Once the Emperor started speaking, the crowd died down and listened. It was a beautiful day! The skies were the most beautiful clear blue! After he had finished, the crowd started roaring again and waving their flags high.
The Emperor’s New Year’s Speech- 2014:
“I am very happy to be able to celebrate this New Year with all of you together. I wish from my heart that this year will be a peaceful and gentle one for every one of our nation. At the beginning of the year, I wish for tranquility and happiness for our country and for people around the world.”
A Little Bit of History:
The Imperial Palace is the permanent residence of Japan’s emperor and imperial family. Completed in 1968, the palace itself is a contemporary reconstruction of the Meiji Imperial Palace, which was targeted by aerial bombers during WWII. However, on these grounds once stood Edo Castle, which in its time was the largest castle in the world. In 1590 Tokugawa Ieyasu chose the grounds as the site for an unassailable fortress from which the shogun was to rule all Japan until the Meiji Restoration, though much was lost through fires. The Emperor Meiji took up power in Edo, and much of the remaining castle was torn down to make way for the new Imperial Palace.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!