The Japanese Imperial family is a symbol of the grace of the nation. All of them, for the most part, remain reserved and graceful in all situations.
It is indeed enticing that the Imperial Family opens the gates to the palace on the days of the Emperor’s birthday (December 23rd) and the New Year greeting (January 2nd).
I have been to witness birthday greeting once, and the New Year’s greeting 3 times, and each time was amazing. I know it is silly, but my heart swelled, and I felt great pride and respect for the royal family. Although either day is a great opportunity to see them, I prefer New Years. Lots of well wishers, people waving Japanese mini-flags, and a great memory to start a new year.
The magical Imperial Palace opens to the public every year on January 2nd for the public greeting. You can go in, explore around a little, and be there when the family greets the commoners. The gates are open from 9:30 AM and close at 2:10 PM. Be sure to get there early, because lines can be long and you don’t want to arrive last minute and get cut off just before you’re about to see them.
You can experience the greeting for this year at the following times, keeping in mind these are rough estimates: 10:10 AM, 11:00 AM, 11:50 AM, 1:30 PM, and 2:20 PM. Representatives vary according to the time, with the Emperor and Empress being out for all, and older and younger family members switching each time.
The rules are fairly simple, don’t bring big baggage, don’t smoke on the grounds, and don’t look or act creepy or suspicious. No animals other than guide dogs. Obviously no dangerous items, demonstration goods, or other propaganda. Also, no selfie sticks or tripods. Besides, no self-respecting visitor of the Emperor would use a selfie stick. They are not regal at all.
I secretly think that the Imperial Family runs around the palace before the big reveal, singing ‘Open the Gates’ from Disney’s Frozen. Well, except for Crown Princess Masako. She is most likely praying no one pulls off her gloves and reveals the magic within. Just kidding, she is lovely.
Either way, if you happen to be in Tokyo on either the Emperor’s Birthday, or January 2nd, get yourself to the palace. You may just get a picture of the royals and hear their Imperial greetings. Be sure to take lots of photos and soak up the once in a lifetime experience. It is not everyday that you get to be in the presence of actual royalty.
The palace is located in downtown Tokyo, and easy to access, a 20-minute walk from Tokyo station.
Her Imperial Highness Princess Kako of Japan