Rolling fields of Japanese irises in full bloom - a lovely illusion of wilderness and a perfect contrast to the "formal" parts of the Imperial Palace East Garden.
Despite having walked around the Imperial Palace grounds on my previous trips to Tokyo, this was the first time that I actually entered the East Garden. I'm not quite sure why - but better late than never, I guess.
This 52 acre park is surrounded by deep moats, dramatic stone walls, and reached through several stone bridges and gates. It was built on grounds that belonged to the Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawa Shoguns that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. After that, the Meiji Restoration re-established the Imperial family's power, Edo was named Tokyo, and the Imperial family moved here from Kyoto. The palace has been rebuilt at least twice, first after a great fire in the late 19th century, and then due to destruction during the World War II. The East Garden forms its own area on the side of the actual palace complex, and is the only part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds that is open to public.
Seimon Ishibashi bridge leads to the main entrance to the palace (the entrance to the gardens available to public is on the east side of the palace grounds).
The huge moat remains from the Edo period, together with several beautiful guard towers.
The monumental stone walls are so beautiful - I love the arched (do you call them that...?) corners, they are so typically Japanese in form.
The adjective most often used to describe these gardens seems to be "manicured" - with a hint of... I'm not quite sure what, arrogance maybe, or some kind of imagined superiority. I'm not sure why. I mean, what would you expect from a garden just outside the palace and residence of Emperor Akihito, the 125th emperor of his line? Not an avant garde patch with experimental plantings, but a garden that transmits the permanence and continuity of the imperial office and the Japanese culture through their traditional garden design - definitely not one that is just "accidentally there".
The wilder parts of the gardens, closer to the outer edge, with meadows filled with Japanese irises under cherries, most of which had already finished flowering.
Iris japonica, such a perfect plant for the Emperor's gardens.
The irises and cherries were nearly done with their blooming; kerrias, azaleas and wisterias were just beginning theirs.
A little stream under Japanese maples just furling out their leaves, together with grasses and variegated bamboos...
Anyway. The walls and moats form a strong, impressive frame to the garden as you enter the garden - they can't be seen from inside, but the impression stays in your mind. In the actual garden, paths linger around beds of bearded irises form like rivers through the garden; hedges of azaleas and rhododendrons are closely trimmed into sculptural forms; behind ponds, they disappear into a wilderness of rolling fields filled with Japanese irises. The whole effect is based on the contrast of the contained and the wild. All carefully planned, executed and maintained, of course - but then, what else would you expect of a garden of this rank?
Only very few cherries were still in flower here, but the buds of the wisteria (see pergola in the middle of the picture) were swelling, and will be gorgeous just in a couple of weeks.
A tiny waterfall run down into from the wilder parts of the garden into the pond below.
Yet another angle on the pergola - several artistically pruned pines were part of the gardens.
The lovely Suwa no chaya tea house, also from the Edo period, is part of the gardens - unfortunately (and understandably...), no tea was served here to the strolling visitors.