The National Diet Building (Kokkai-gijido) in the Chiyoda ward is the center of political activity in Japan. It houses the two main decision-making branches of the Japanese government, the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives. The activities in the large “main chamber” halls for each House appear regularly on Japanese television news programs and important session meetings are often broadcast live. Tours of the facilities of each House are free and surprisingly interesting even if you don’t know much about Japanese government.
The tours are virtually identical. Visitors see the public gallery of the main chamber of its respective house, the waiting rooms of the Emperor and the Imperial family, the Central Hall, and the garden in main courtyard. But, for those with some time on their hands, it is interesting to do both tours and see the differences between the Emperor’s seating area in the main chamber of each House. (Hint: One has never been visited by the Emperor and is covered by a curtain. The other is used by the Emperor and is visible.)
The House of Councillors tour does not require a reservation, so you can easily just drop in, but there are limited English-language resources. The House of Representatives tour is the best for foreigners, but requires a reservation. There are many English-language resources and you can take photos of the main chamber. Be sure to ask someone to point out the fossils.
House of Councillors
Tours of the House of Councillors happen every hour from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. The tour runs about sixty minutes and is free, with no reservation necessary. You can’t take photos in the building, only at the end of the tour in the garden courtyard. You need to bring a passport, fill out a short visitor’s form, and do a quick security check before entering, so arrive a few minutes early. The tour entry gate is on the west side of the Diet Building on the north corner near Nagatacho Station. I received an interesting English pamphlet to entertain me while the tour was conducted entirely in Japanese.
House of Representatives
Tours of the House of Representatives run about ninety minutes and are free. You can take photos in the main chamber as well as at the end of the tour in the garden courtyard. You need to bring a passport, fill out a short visitor’s form, and do a quick security check before entering, so arrive a few minutes early. The tour entry gate is on the west side of the Diet Building, pretty much at the building’s midpoint. Tours for Japanese speakers happen daily, but non-Japanese speakers cannot take these tours. You can take a tour in English on Monday at 2:00 p.m. or Thursday at 3:00 p.m., and you must make an advance reservation by email. The tour guide gave us a useful English pamphlet that contained more detail than the pamphlet from the House of Councillors.
To make a reservation, send an email to email@example.com that includes the following six pieces of information: your preferred tour date, your name/name of your group leader, number of people who will take the tour, contact email address, physical address in your home country, your contact information in Japan (hotel name and phone number).
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One of the really cool features of the Diet Building is that the walls contain fossils, but they are hard to see due to the wall texture. The tour guide did not know where the fossils were located, but the security guard enthusiastically pointed them out with his flashlight, excitedly showing everyone the ancient plants, shells, insects, and fish skeletons embedded in the walls. I foolishly waited to ask about the fossils at the end of the tour, but I wish I had asked at the beginning so the tour guide knew I was interested.
Nearby cheapo points of interest
- The Diet Building is only a few blocks from the official residence of the Prime Minister, and you can see some of this beautiful house from the street. Security guards are checking cars, but foot traffic is permitted beyond the security checkpoints.
- If you need a cheap lunch before your Diet Tour, there is a tasty and inexpensive cafeteria in the Diet Library one block north of the Diet Building. The menu is huge and worth visiting just to see the huge display case of food offerings. Every item is numbered, making it easy to order at the ticket vending machine. You have to get a free, single-day pass for the library from the kiosk by the main entrance, but it is worth this minimal effort for the cheap food and a quick walk through this famous library.