For those of you who like to get under the skin of a destination and live like a local, there’s no better way when in Japan than to join in with one of the most anticipated events of the year, Ippan Sanga. Here’s how you can be involved in this long-standing Japanese tradition.
So…What is Ippan Sanga?!
Much like Willy Wonka’s elusive Chocolate factory, on just two days throughout the year, the public are permitted to explore the inner grounds of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace Gardens.
It’s a time where people can pay their respects and well-wishes to the Imperial Family as well as exchange new year greetings with fellow citizens in beautiful and peaceful surroundings. The royal family will wave to the adoring public from the palace balcony overlooking the East Lawn, starting the new year in traditional Japanese style.
What are the Imperial Palace Gardens?
The Palace Gardens act as a rural escape amid an urban jungle, with lush green surroundings, beautiful flora and wildlife-filled ponds all to be enjoyed at the heart of the city.
The Palace’s outer gardens and the East Garden can be accessed all year round free of charge, however the gardens are at their busiest during sakura season for the abundance of cherry blossom trees that line the grounds.
To see the Imperial Family in public is a rare and celebrated event as the public may only enter the Palace’s inner gardens on the 23rd of December (the Emperor’s birthday), or during Ippan Sanga. It’s a unique way to celebrate the New Year and is a far cry from the usual fireworks and rowdy bar offerings found in big cities around the world.
When Should I Arrive?
The Imperial household will make their first appearance at 10:10am sharp, however, entry is only allowed from 9:30am onwards so you’ll need to make an early start to be in with a chance of catching the first royal appearance.
The family will make four more appearances and are joined by various family members at scheduled times throughout the day should you want to explore the city beforehand.
How Can I Get there?
Take the subway or Shinkansen to Tokyo Station, which is a 15-20-minute walk away from the grounds. Upon arrival, visitors should enter via the Nijubashi (main gate), and exit via either Sakashita-mon Gate, Kikyo-mon Gate or Inui-mon Gate.
What Should I Wear?
The Japanese are an impeccably dressed nation on a day to day basis, but the bar is really raised when the time comes to celebrate Ippan Sanga.
To be in the presence of Japanese royalty is a real privilege, therefore it’s only right that you should show off your best stitches for the occasion.
Where Should I Stay?
To savour this special sight for an evening or two longer, book into Palace Hotel Tokyo, one of the best hotels in Tokyo, where many of the expansive, elegantly designed rooms offer spectacular views of the Imperial Gardens through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Where to Eat?
The Marunouchi area is wedged between the bustle of Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, therefore options are aplenty. For a quick bite to eat, take a wander through Tokyo Ramen Street, located in Tokyo Station, where you’ll find everything from Michelin Starred ramen restaurants to family-owned ramen restaurants.
Or for a full-on traditional, sit down Japanese dining experience, try Kitaohji – It’s epic!