Immediately north of the Imperial Palace moat is a central, almost secret woodland park called Kitanomaru Park. Steps from the hustle and hoardes of people walking and running around the moat, this park is a little oasis where you can stroll, sit, and feel like you are almost in the countryside. While the park is relatively compact, it’s also big enough that everyone can do his or her own thing.
Nature in the park
The open lawn and pond area marks the heart of the park. This is where the neighborhood dog owners congregate, couples picnic, photographers capture natural scenery, and random musicians sometimes play. Surrounding this open space are winding networks of little woodland paths lined by trees. Stray off the paved paths, particularly up to the western ridge, to find a babbling brook, a little waterfall, stepping stones, and a view down to rowing boats in the Chidorigafuchi Park moat below. In the right season, the park boasts some of the best cherry blossoms and fall foliage in the city center.
Culture in the park
Kitanomaru Park is not only about natural scenery—in fact many enjoy its cultural offerings without even noticing that they are on the edge of this park. On the park’s southern edge is the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT) and its Craft Gallery. Inside the park is the Science Museum. And perhaps the most striking building in the park is the Budokan, Japan’s top martial arts venue, built for the 1964 Olympics judo competitions. It’s rare to walk past the Budokan without seeing some interesting event taking place, whether it’s lines of cosplay enthusiasts awaiting a huge concert, kimono-clad singers practicing their choruses, or even some martial arts people preparing for a lesson or exhibition.
History in the park
Kitanomaru Park was once part of Edo Castle (which burned down in 1873) and was home to the ruling Tokugawa family (and a medicinal garden). Besides being mostly surrounded by a moat, two original Edo gates remain as park entrances. The most impressive is the Tayasu-mon near Kudanshita Station, constructed in 1685. The other is the Shimizu-mon which takes you out near the Chiyoda Ward Office. Later the park became a military post for the Imperial Guard, but after WWII most buildings were removed, except for the Meiji period headquarters building (built in 1910) which is now home to the Craft Gallery. The park opened to the public in 1969 to commemorate the 60th birthday of Emperor Showa.
A walk in the park
Bored of the usual walking circuit around the Imperial moat (or fear being trampled by runners)? Kitanomaru Park is part of a lovely alternative, the Chidorigafuchi Park walking path. This mostly-flat circuit also involves a charming moatside path that is teeming with cherry blossoms in spring. The entire route takes at least 40 minutes and you won’t have to cross a single road.
Extend your walk by:
- Renting a rowing boat on Chidorigafuchi Moat (April-November, 500 yen for 30 minutes, or 800 yen during cherry blossom season—it’s worth it).
- Visiting the politically controversial Yasukuni Shrine (free) and/or the adjacent Yushukan Japanese military and war museum (800 yen for adults, 540 yen for university students, but the lobby is free and has various armaments). Note that the flea market here has been discontinued til 2020 for renovations.
- Walking over to Jimbocho to explore this studenty/literary area where the streets are lined with bookshops and great little restaurants.
- Visiting MOMAT (420 yen for adults, 140 yen for students) or the Science Museum (720 yen).
- Heading south to the Imperial Palace moat and the entrance to the East Gardens (free).
You can most conveniently approach the route from Kudanshita Station, or from the north side of the Imperial Palace moat.