The Akasaka Palace: Tokyo’s Hidden National Treasure

During my early years in Japan, I realized that cycling was an excellent way to explore Tokyo and get a feel for how its patchwork of wards connect with each other. On one fateful ride in 2013, I took a wrong turn and came across a truly awe-inspiring sight: a splendid European-style palace in the middle of a perfectly manicured lawn that seemed to go on forever.
“How could something like this exist in the middle of Tokyo, and how did I not know about it?” I wondered, as I stood awestruck outside of the palace gates.
Later that day, after I completed my bike ride, I fired up Google Maps and learned that this ornate building is indeed a palace, rich with history. And, there’s a good reason that it’s off the beaten path for tourists and locals alike. Read on to find out more about Tokyo’s version of Buckingham Palace.


Journey back in time

The front of the main building. Modeled after Buckingham Palace, the Akasaka Palace is also known as the State Guest House (Geihinkan in Japanese).

Located in Moto-Akasaka, just outside of Shinjuku, the Akasaka State Guest House is one of Tokyo’s best kept secrets. For years, I used the nearby Yotsuya Station without even knowing that the palace was right around the corner. Originally the Crown Prince’s Palace, construction on the Akasaka State Guest House started in 1899, a mere three decades after the end of feudalism in Japan. The palace was completed in 1909.
Since 1974 the Akasaka Palace became the State Guest House and has accommodated heads of state from all over the world. It also served as the venue for the G-7 Summit meetings in 1979, 1986 and 1993.

Now open to the public


Perhaps the main reason that so few people are aware of the Akasaka Palace is the fact that it wasn’t open to the public until 2016. I finally had the pleasure of going inside last year, four years after I first saw it during that fateful bike ride.
Entering the palace gates is like stepping through a portal to 19th-century Europe. The illusion is fractured only slightly by the towering skyscrapers of Roppongi and Akasaka looming in the distance. This is a place where traditional Japanese and European aesthetics mingle with hypermodern Tokyo as a backdrop—truly a sight to behold.
The highlight of my journey through the main palace building was seeing the signatures of Jimmy Carter and Margaret Thatcher in the official guestbook. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the main building, but you can get a feel for the experience by visiting the official website. This is also where you can register your visit in advance—something I strongly recommend since the palace is often closed for dignitary visits.

An unforgettable experience

A shot from my original 2013 encounter with the Akasaka State Guest House. Even from behind the palace gates, it’s still possible to get some good photos.

If you are planning a trip to Japan, make sure that a visit to the Akasaka Palace is on your itinerary. Even if you can’t go inside, you can still take in some nice views and capture great photos from outside of the palace gates. And if you love exercise, nothing beats running or walking laps just outside of the palace grounds.
Exploring the Akasaka State Guest House and its surroundings was an unforgettable experience. It’s unfortunate that this amazing place is overshadowed by some of the more popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. Now that it’s open to the public, however, I’m confident that it will soon become one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Phoenix statues adorn the palace exterior.

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:
The Akasaka Palace: Tokyo’s Hidden National Treasure

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AUTHOR

Anthony

Anthony

Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.

Information

Address 2-1-1 Moto-Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo ,107-0051
Hours See official website
Price 1,500 yen
Close See official website
Access Seven-minute walk from Yotsuya Station via the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line or the JR Chuo/Sobu Line
Phone +81-03-3478-1111
Language Japanese
English
Website https://www.geihinkan.go.jp/en/akasaka/