There are only two days in the year when the general public are allowed to enter the inner grounds of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace and pay their respects to the Imperial family.
The first is December 23rd, the Emperor’s birthday and the second is Ippan Sanga on January 2nd. Ippan Sanga is a time for citizens to exchange New Year’s greetings and see the Imperial Family, who make several appearances throughout the day to wave to the public from a palace balcony facing the East Garden.
Ippan Sanga is a relatively new tradition in Japan’s long history as it was only after World War II that all citizens were given the right to visit the palace grounds for this purpose. It is therefore considered a great privilege and many locals dress up for the occasion.
Well-wishers start to arrive from 9.30am for the first appearance of the Imperial family at 10.10am. In true Japanese style, times and traditions are strictly adhered to with appearances occurring at 11am; 11:50am; 1:30pm and 2.20pm. From the third appearance onwards the Emperor and Empress, and the Crown Prince and Princess, are joined by Prince and Princess Akishino and their eldest daughter, Princess Mako.
The East Gardens of the palace are closed during the New Year greeting and people enter the palace by the main gate (Nijubashi). It’s a popular event (most businesses are closed over the early New Year period) and from early in the morning you are likely to see a stream of human traffic snaking its way up to the palace grounds.