The Imperial Household Agency on May 1 began offering guided tours in English of the Imperial Palace in the capital's Chiyoda Ward.
Visitors set out from the Kikyomon gate and spent 75 minutes or so tramping through the grounds.
John Bauman, visiting from the United States with his wife, was enchanted by the architecture and called the tour a great opportunity. He was impressed by the easy access.
Many foreign visitors snapped commemorative photos against landmarks such as the Nijubashi bridge and Fujimi Yagura keep, where the Tokugawa shogun in the Edo Period (1603-1867) are said to have enjoyed watching fireworks displays set off in the Ryogoku district, as well as views of Tokyo Bay around the Shinagawa district.
The English service reflects growing international interest in the lead-up to the enthronement next year of Crown Prince Naruhito as emperor after his father, Akihito, formally abdicates, as well as the naming of a new imperial era.
Of the 112,639 visitors to the Imperial Palace last year, almost half were from overseas, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
The agency began offering a smartphone app in May last year that gave explanations about the Imperial Palace and the Kyoto Imperial Palace in English, Chinese and four other languages.
As calls grew for guided tours in English from visitors, the agency recruited four English-speaking guides for the Imperial Palace in April.
Tours in Japanese and English will be available from Tuesday through Saturday except the year-end and New Year's holidays from 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Up to 500 people can join each tour.
No tours will be available May 8, and afternoon tours will not be provided May 9-11, and May 15, due to events involving imperial family members, according to the agency’s website.
Visitors are urged to check the agency's website for other irregular holidays or cancellation of tours.