Exploring the Wonders of Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens: From Majestic Nature to Historic Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Gyoen is a national park located in Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture.

Within its vast 65 hectares, you can appreciate the remnants of over 200 noble residences from the Edo period and experience the beauty of changing seasons. The park features historical structures like the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which is open to the public at all times, as well as other precious buildings such as the Sento Imperial Palace, Kyoto Omiya Imperial Palace, and Kyoto State Guest House.

In this blog post, I’ll introduce the highlights of Kyoto Gyoen, a place where locals enjoy strolling, relaxing, and engaging in sports, all while encountering historical architecture. Consider this as a guide for your Kyoto trip, along with recommendations for nearby tourist attractions.

What is Kyoto Gyoen?

Kyoto Gyoen is an expansive park in Kyoto, Japan, covering a total area of 92 hectares, with the park area alone spanning 65 hectares.

Originally, during the Meiji era, this space, once home to over 140 noble residences, was transformed into a park. Initially under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household Agency, it later came under the administration of the current Ministry of the Environment after the dissolution of the Imperial Household Agency.

Post-World War II, Kyoto Gyoen was designated a national park. It features historical structures like the Kyoto Imperial Palace, along with facilities for citizens such as tennis courts and resting areas.Apart from vast attractions like the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the park also preserves the historic “Hamaguri Gate,” where conflicts between the Edo Shogunate and pro-imperial loyalists took place.

With over 500 varieties of plants and approximately 50,000 trees, Kyoto Gyoen is not only a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing but also renowned for bird-watching. Explore the beauty of this park, where history, nature, and recreational facilities come together seamlessly.

History of Kyoto Gyoen

The origins of Kyoto Gyoen trace back to the Imperial Palace, which was initially located to the west of present-day Kyoto, near Senbon Street, during the Heian period when Kyoto became the capital. Due to multiple fires that made it impossible to reconstruct the palace at its original site, a substitute palace, called “Satoyamate,” was established. Over time, the administrative authority over Satoyamate changed hands, but during the Nanboku-cho period, the residence of Emperor Komyo, located at the site, led to the establishment of the Imperial Palace in 1392.

As the years passed, the originally 4,500-square-meter site expanded significantly. Despite facing challenges such as the fires during the Onin War and the turmoil of the Warring States period, reconstruction efforts by Oda and Toyotomi, followed by construction by the Tokugawa, preserved its existence. As of 2019, the remaining section of the Imperial Palace within Kyoto Gyoen was reconstructed in 1855 during the Ansei era.

The area that is now a park used to be a neighborhood filled with the mansions of the imperial family and nobility until the Meiji era. When the capital moved to Tokyo, these residences disappeared, and the entire area experienced a period of decline. Concerned about this situation, the Emperor and influential figures like Iwakura Tomomi proposed preserving the imperial palace and maintaining the old landscape. This marked the beginning of Kyoto Gyoen, involving the removal of vacant noble houses and the development of the vacant land.

In 1947, Kyoto Gyoen, along with the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens and Shinjuku Gyoen, was established as a national park under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Since the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment in 1971, the administration was transferred to them, with a renewed focus on nature conservation within the grounds.

Tourist Information for Kyoto Gyoen

Address: Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture

Map: Google Maps

Phone Number: 075-211-6364

Closed: Open every day (except for certain facilities)

Business Hours: Open all the time (except for certain facilities)

Admission Fee: Free (except for certain facilities)

Official Website: Kyoto Gyoen

Kyoto Gyoen is a popular destination attracting a diverse range of visitors, from locals to tourists.

Spread across a vast area, the park offers a variety of facilities, including sports areas, rest areas, tea houses, and historical structures. Most of the paths within the park are gravel, but the western side features mostly flat paved roads, ensuring accessibility for wheelchair users and those with mobility challenges.

For the convenience of wheelchair users, there are considerate parking spaces and accessible restrooms available. Facilities and maps within the park are provided in multiple languages, making it convenient for international visitors. When exploring the 1.3km north-south and 0.7km east-west dimensions of this national park, consider wearing comfortable clothing for an enjoyable experience.

Exploring Kyoto Imperial Palace

One of the must-visit attractions while exploring Kyoto Gyoen is the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which preserves the imperial residence from 1331 to 1869.

Kyoto Imperial Palace is typically open to the public for free, except on Mondays and during the New Year’s period when it’s closed. The visiting hours are from 9:00 to 17:00, but during certain seasons, it may close at 16:00.

Upon entry, expect a simple bag check, and you’ll need to wear an admission permit around your neck. No advance reservations are required, so feel free to drop by while exploring Kyoto Gyoen.

Access to Kyoto Gyoen

Kyoto Gyoen is situated in the heart of Kyoto, specifically in Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. It’s conveniently located approximately 30 minutes by train from Kyoto Station, the central hub for tourists. You can easily access it with a short 5-minute walk from the bus stop or the nearest train station. Once there, feel free to enter or exit through several gates within the park.

Access to Kyoto Imperial Palace

  • Take the Karasuma Subway Line from JR Kyoto Station, get off at “Imadegawa Station,” and it’s a 3-minute walk.
  • Take the Karasuma Subway Line from JR Kyoto Station, get off at “Marutamachi Station,” and it’s a 3-minute walk.
  • From Hankyu Karasuma Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line, get off at “Imadegawa Station,” and it’s a 3-minute walk.
  • Walk 15 minutes from Keihan Electric Railway “Jingumarutamachi Station.”
  • Walk 20 minutes from Keihan Electric Railway “Demachiyanagi Station.”

Access to Kyoto Station from various locations

  • Approximately 75 minutes from Kansai International Airport on JR Airport Express “Haruka.”
  • Approximately 55 minutes from Itami Airport by Osaka Airport Limousine Bus.
  • Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes from JR Tokyo Station on the Nozomi Shinkansen.
  • Approximately 51 minutes from JR Sannomiya Station by Limited Express.
  • Approximately 29 minutes from JR Osaka Station on the New Rapid Service.
  • Approximately 47 minutes from JR Nara Station on the Miyakoji Rapid Service.

Exploring the Highlights of Kyoto Gyoen

Experience the ever-changing beauty of nature, historical structures within the garden, and the preserved Kyoto Imperial Palace. Kyoto Gyoen offers a delightful blend of nature walks and historical exploration. Why not make a stop and enjoy both aspects at this enchanting garden?

Historical Remains at the Free-Admission Mansion – The Site of Kanshin-no-miya Residence and Hamaguri Gate

Site of Kanshin-no-miya Residence

In Kyoto Gyoen, there used to be numerous mansions belonging to the imperial family and nobility until around the Edo period.

With the onset of the Meiji era and the capital moving to Tokyo, many of these residences shifted to the new capital. The “Site of Kanshin-no-miya Residence” was repurposed as the former Kyoto branch office of the Imperial Household Agency and stands as a historical remnant where you can reflect on that era.

The only remaining mansion in the park underwent a three-year renovation, preserving the original garden as well. This residence, used until Prince Kanshin-no-miya moved to Tokyo in 1877, is currently open to the public for free as of 2019. Explore the exhibition rooms in the building consisting of four sections and appreciate the beauty of the seasonal gardens from the veranda.

Hamaguri Gate

“Hamaguri Gate,” counted among the nine outer gates of Kyoto Gyoen, is formally known as “Shinzaiki Go-mon.” During the great fire of Tenmei in 1788, this gate, known as Shinzaiki Go-mon, remained closed until the intense heat caused it to open like a clamshell. This event led to the name “Hamaguri Gate.” Today, it serves as one of the entrances to Kyoto Imperial Palace and stands as a valuable historical structure.

In 1864, Hamaguri Gate witnessed fierce battles between the pro-imperial loyalists and the Tokugawa shogunate during the Kinmon Incident. The scars of this historical conflict, also known as the Hamaguri Gate Incident or Kinmon no Hen, are still visible on the gate in the form of bullet marks.

Explore the Gardens: Captivating Seasonal Views during a Nature Stroll

Within the vast grounds of Kyoto Gyoen, nature flourishes to the extent that it becomes a birdwatching haven. The plum grove, boasting around 200 trees, signals the arrival of spring in Kyoto Gyoen.

As the temperature rises, the peach grove begins to bloom, emitting a sweet fragrance. Simultaneously, various trees in the garden, such as weeping cherry and mountain cherry, burst into vibrant colors. With cherry blossom petals swirling in the air, Kyoto Gyoen takes on a bright and refreshing atmosphere, characteristic of spring. The pleasant temperatures make it an ideal season to leisurely stroll through the expansive garden, enjoying the blooming flowers along the way.

As early summer arrives, the streams sparkle in the sunlight, creating a glistening effect throughout Kyoto Gyoen, marking the season of fresh greenery. Embrace the onset of summer while listening to the chirping of cicadas.

During the author’s visit in early July, the temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. However, walking in the shaded areas within the garden provided a cool respite even during the daytime. Exploring the garden during the summer season is recommended, making use of the refreshing resting spots available.

Autumn in Kyoto Gyoen offers a comfortable climate along with the charming spectacle of colored leaves on the trees. The grand ginkgo tree displays vibrant yellow foliage, while the maple trees throughout the garden turn a brilliant shade of red. Exploring the “Forest of Mother and Child,” where trees abound, allows for a delightful autumn stroll, immersed in the fragrance of fallen leaves.

As autumn fully sets in, the fragrance of osmanthus fills the air, accompanied by the sounds of insects. Engaging all your senses, you can truly feel the arrival of the season.

Nakadachi-uri Rest Area

Within Kyoto Gyoen, three well-equipped resting areas are available for visitors, and the best part is they’re all free of charge.

Situated to the north of the Nakadachi-uri Gate, the “Nakadachi-uri Rest Area” has a serene forest-like ambiance surrounded by the greenery of the garden. During the pleasant seasons of spring and autumn, you can take a break on the terrace seats while enjoying a view of the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

These rest areas feature a shop offering local Kyoto specialties, a restaurant, and an information corner. The warm, wooden interior provides a cozy atmosphere for a leisurely rest. With wheelchair rentals and coin lockers available, this spot is suitable for various situations, ensuring a convenient and comfortable experience.

Explore Kyoto’s History at the Main Spot – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Shishinden” (紫宸殿)

The largest building within the Kyoto Imperial Palace and to the south of the palace grounds is the “Shishinden” (紫宸殿), which once served as the main hall of the former imperial residence.

Constructed over 100 years ago in the “Irimoya-zukuri” architectural style with a cypress bark roof, the Shishinden has been the venue for crucial public ceremonies such as the Emperor’s enthronement, coming-of-age rituals, crown prince investiture, and important court assemblies. At its front, the eye-catching “Shoumei-mon” gate, adorned in vermilion lacquer, stands proudly.

Nestled deep within the white-sand southern garden, the Shishinden continues to exude a sacred atmosphere, attracting many visitors for sightseeing. The central and eastern parts of the building house the Emperor’s “Takamikura” and the Empress’s “Michôdai,” both of which were used during ceremonies. In front of the Shishinden, cherry trees on the left and tangerine trees on the right bloom beautifully in spring.

While tourists often enjoy taking photographs of the Shishinden, it’s recommended to be mindful of other visitors to avoid capturing them in the frame during photography.


The “Seiryoden,” located to the northwest of the Shishinden, is a historical structure that served as the Emperor’s residence. Originally constructed during the Azuchi-Momoyama period as the “Gonjo-Goten” (Imperial Temporary Palace), it later became a venue for ceremonies and imperial duties. Unlike the Shishinden, which lacks interior partitions due to its ceremonial use, the Seiryoden, having served as a residence, features numerous partitioned rooms.

Inside, you can find rooms such as the Emperor’s daytime sitting area, known as the “Hinoomashi,” and the nighttime residence, referred to as the “Yoruno-Otudo.” While entry into the building may not be permitted, take a stroll around the exterior to observe the various rooms.


Adjacent to architectural wonders like the Shosoin and Gotenyama within the Kyoto Imperial Palace, you’ll find a vast Japanese garden centered around a beautiful pond. This picturesque garden, focused around the pond, was meticulously designed by Kobori Enshu, a versatile figure with roles as an architect, painter, and garden designer. The eastern garden, situated to the east of the Shosoin and the Imperial Study Hall, is often referred to as the “Oniwa-ike” due to its prominent central pond.

Within the pond, you’ll discover several small islets connected by charming stone bridges. On clear days, the reflections of the surrounding trees shimmer on the pond, offering a delightful and charming view.


The garden on the east side of the Imperial Palace, utilizing a water system called “Kenzui,” is referred to as the “Gonaitei.” Within this garden, surrounded by trees, including pine, you’ll discover architectural gems like the 4.5-mat tea room called “Nishiki-dai.” As autumn approaches, the trees around the garden transform, painting the surroundings in shades of red and yellow, making it a hidden gem for autumn foliage.

Exploring Attractions Around Kyoto Gyoen

Around Kyoto Imperial Palace, you’ll find various shrines, including Kitano Tenmangu, known for honoring the god of learning, and other shrines recognized as power spots. From shrines dedicated to Abe no Seimei, believed to have connections to Onmyodo, to those associated with sports, claiming benefits for a wide range of athletic activities, each spot boasts its unique character. Combining a visit to these distinctive shrines with the opportunity to enjoy both nature and historical architecture at Kyoto Imperial Palace can make for a delightful exploration.

A Popular Spot Among Students Praying for Success in Exams! “Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is a popular tourist spot located about a 15-minute bus ride from Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Known as a central shrine for Tenjin faith, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine attracts many visitors from all over the country. Explore the historically significant architecture, including the designated national treasure main hall built over 1,000 years ago.

Kitano Tenmangu enshrines Sugawara no Michizane, known as the deity of learning. During exam seasons, many people visit seeking its blessings. The main hall, stone corridor, prayer hall, and music hall, all connected by corridors, showcase distinctive architectural features. The main hall, reconstructed in 1607, retains the vibrant elegance of the Momoyama period.

In front of the main hall, there’s a gate known as the “Sanko Mon” at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It earned the name “Sanko Mon” because it features carvings of the sun, moon, and stars between its beams. The top of the gate displays characters from Emperor Go-West’s calligraphy, adding to its luxurious decoration and capturing the attention of visitors.

Although commonly referred to as the Sanko Mon, a closer look reveals that some stars are missing, leading to its alternative name, the “Star-Deprived Sanko Mon.” Historically, when viewed from the Dai-goku-den in the Imperial Court, the North Star shone directly above the gate. To maintain this celestial alignment, stars were intentionally left uncarved. The “Star-Deprived Sanko Mon” is designated as an important cultural property, symbolizing the unity of the sky and the protection of Heian-kyo.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, Umayabacho
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Phone Number: 075-461-0005
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Business Hours: [April to September] 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM, [October to March] 5:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Extended during Momiji-en Illumination, New Year, etc.)
  • Official Website: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Seimei Shrine,” a Power Spot Dedicated to Abe no Seimei

Seimei Shrine is a historic shrine established in 1007 by Emperor Ichijō to honor the achievements of Abe no Seimei during his lifetime.

Initially, the shrine covered a vast area from Horikawa Street in the east to Kuromon Street in the west, Gen Seiganji Street in the north, and Chūryaku-in Street in the south. Known as a power spot, the shrine venerates Abe no Seimei, who was not only skilled in astronomy but also possessed the power to control shikigami.

While Seimei Shrine is renowned for its benefits in warding off misfortune and evil, it has gained attention from Olympic athletes, who visit before competitions. Distinctive pentagram symbols known as “Seimei Kikyō” adorn the torii gate and main hall, providing a unique touch that sets it apart from other shrines.

With the ability to explore all key points within the shrine in about 15 minutes, it’s a great place to visit during breaks in your sightseeing schedule.

Legend has it that Abe no Seimei possessed mysterious powers, including the ability to control shikigami. Among the shrines dedicated to him, there are several power spots, and one notable example is the Seimei Well. This well is famous for the story of Abe no Seimei miraculously causing water to spring forth using his psychic abilities.

The well, known as Seimei Well, gained additional recognition when the renowned tea master Sen no Rikyū used its water for tea ceremonies. Even today, the well continues to provide spring water, believed to have healing properties, and visitors can drink from it to experience the reputed benefits of recovery from illness.

Seimei Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: 806 Horikawa-dori, Seimei-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 2-minute walk from the city bus stop “Ichijo Modoribashi – Seimei Jinja Mae.”
  • Phone: 075-441-6460
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: Seimei Shrine

A Shrine Honoring Gods of Ball Sports like Kemari and Soccer – “Shiromine Shrine”

Located just a short walk from the bus stop “Horikawa Imadegawa” or a 5-minute walk from the Seimei Shrine, you’ll find the “Shiromine Shrine.”

This shrine, dedicated to Emperor Sutoku and Emperor Junnin, also enshrines the deity of kemari (a traditional ball game), Sei Daimyojin. It’s considered a power spot, often visited by students and working individuals seeking luck before competitions, particularly those in soccer-related sports.

The Shiromine Shrine gained attention during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. The main hall of the shrine is adorned with signatures of famous soccer players and dedications from athletes involved in various ball sports. Don’t miss the chance to explore unique charms such as magnet-style amulets or wristbands that capture the essence of this shrine dedicated to gods of ball sports.

Shiromine Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: 261 Asukai-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • Map: [Google Maps]
  • Access: Just a short walk from bus routes 9 and 101 at the “Horikawa Imadegawa” stop, and a 5-minute walk from Seimei Shrine.
  • Phone: 075-441-3810
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Hours: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: [Shiromine Shrine]

The Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens, a vast national garden located in the heart of Kyoto, offer a delightful experience for visitors. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the natural beauty of the park or appreciate historical remnants, providing options for various interests. Preserving the former imperial residence, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is open to the public year-round, allowing free access to its grounds. This park is brimming with attractions, inviting you to immerse yourself in the beauty and history of Kyoto.


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