Sentō-gosho (Sentō Imperial Palace) was built for retired emperors in 1630, sort of an old folks home for royalty. It burned down and was rebuilt several times and then more or less abandoned when the imperial court split for Tokyo in 1868. Only two of the original structures remain, but the vast garden is magnificent.
It is not as meditative as some of the temple gardens, but it was designed for an emperor in his golden years to stroll and admire, not for a buddhist monk to contemplate. Apparently it still hosts foreign dignitaries, which would account for the high security - tours are by reservation only and a valid passport must be presented. There was also the Japanese equivalent of the secret service trailing our group to make sure no one wandered off.
I was not really prepared for the intense autumn hues I saw once inside the garden. The trees all seem to be at the peak of their color, and the cool breeze was pulling a lot of the leaves down. In another week or two perhaps most of them will be on the gravel paths or in the ponds.
The tour was conducted entirely in Japanese so those, like myself, who couldn't understand trailed behind taking unobstructed photos. As the tour pressed on, the shutterbugs lingered to get the best shots, cameras clicking away like paparazzi trying to capture the Beckhams leaving their favorite restaurant in Hollywood. I found myself strangely pressured to take more photos than I normally do because the others around me with their big, expensive cameras were shooting like mad. It bordered on competitive sport, with the anglo-gaijin, of course, being the more aggressive photographers in the group of stragglers. At one point I actually heard one guy say, "Oh, this is the money shot", which couldn't be a more vulgar way to describe such natural beauty. I decided to rejoin the main tour group after that.