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Stunning gardens in the free part of Imperial Palace Gardens, but access restricted
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I really think that this is one of those "must visit" places for both tourists and long-termers in Japan, if you like gardens that is! You can do a paid tour of the gardens, but the free parts of the gardens are just as stunning. The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are one of the free parts. Another is Kokyo Gaien which is open 24 hours, but unlike Kokyo Gaien this park has restrictions as to when you can enter. Also, you need to announce yourself at the gate and pick up a number which you drop back to the gate when you are leaving.
You can enter the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace from Ote-mon Gate, Hirakawa-mon Gate and Kitahanebashi-mon Gate. Ote-mon gate is the one from Kyoko Gaien. The park is absolutely breathtaking. I personally particularly love the Ninomaru gardens. The East Gardens are home to the Sannomaru Shozokan, the Museum of the Imperial Collections. It is a very small museum, but it is free! There are some interesting exhibits and they have some special pieces sometimes.
The park and the museum open at 9 am all year round. The parks closing time depends on the month with 4 pm being the earliest closing time (in Winter) and 5 pm being the latest opening time (in summer). The museum typically closes 15 minutes before the park does. You can't enter either within 30 minutes of closing time. This part of the Imperial palace grounds, including the museum, is closed on Mondays and Fridays and on sometimes on other dates if there is an event on.