Dynamic Tokyo

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Dynamic Tokyo
Tokyo has recovered from destruction many times, and manages to maintain its history even as it strives to be a city of the future. Among anime billboards and electronics superstores are old-world shops, manicured gardens, and ornate temples.
By Erin Bogar, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Kobby Dagan/age fotostock
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    Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines
    The curved eaves of Tokyo’s intricate Buddhist temples and the orange torii gates of its Shinto shrines endure as reminders of the city’s hundreds of years of history. Walk beneath the massive gates of Meiji-jingu, Tokyo’s largest Shinto shrine, and go back to the time of shogun and samurai. Receive an omikuji (fortune) at Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, but beware—they can be curses or blessings. Surrounding Senso-ji is Nakamise-dori, the central street in the centuries-old shopping district, with shops offering kimonos, fans, and tapestries among other traditional goods.
    Photo by Kobby Dagan/age fotostock
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    A Night on the Town
    From Shinjuku’s bar scene to Roppongi’s polished cigar bars and Shibuya’s all-night karaoke, Tokyo nightlife offers something for everyone. Dogenzaka’s Love Hotel Hill is sprinkled with small "love hotels," Japan’s kitschy, themed, rent-by-the-hour lodgings, and is home to some of Tokyo’s most famous clubs, including Womb, a favorite of techno, trance, and drum and bass lovers. For the full Tokyo experience, spend an evening in Shibuya engaged in the highly popular all-night karaoke. For a more mellow evening, the Shin-Marunouchi Building has a collection of bars and restaurants with outdoor patios and dazzling views of the illuminated Tokyo Station. Park Hyatt Tokyo's swish New York Bar has live jazz every evening and classic cocktails.
    Photo by Vikram Chandran
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    Stunning Views: Tokyo from Above
    Tokyo viewed from above appears an endless landscape of concrete and steel. Watch the sunset from the observation deck at Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, and for an additional few hundred yen enjoy the sky deck helicopter pad with unobstructed views of Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and the expanse of the city itself. After taking in the sights of Tokyo at sunset, peruse the Mori Art Museum (included with admission), then enjoy the fully illuminated scenery of Tokyo by night. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Nishi-Shinjuku has the best free views of Tokyo; on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji. A new view in Tokyo is also the highest; Tokyo Skytree boasts two observation decks and is surrounded by shops, an aquarium, and planetarium.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Modern Art and Strange Science
    Fascinating modern art, contemporary architecture, and science abound in Japan’s capital. Near the Tokyo Midtown shopping district is the 21_21 Design Sight, an eclectic museum designed by the famous architect Tadao Ando and co-curated by designer Issey Miyake. The exhibits center on the influence of design on daily life. The National Art Center, Tokyo has architecture as interesting as its exhibits, with a wavy glass exterior and a vast interior with giant, inverted cones of concrete. Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science and National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation have high-tech displays and interactive exhibits that offer educational entertainment for all ages.
    Photo by Marie Takahashi
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    Impeccably Manicured Parks and Gardens
    Tokyo’s parks and gardens offer reprieve from the often frenetic pace of the city. Shinjuku Gyoen, with its sprawling lawns, views of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers, and French, English, and Japanese gardens, is an idyllic setting for a picnic. In the center of Tokyo, the gardens of the Imperial Palace display the simplicity and precision of Japanese landscape design, while Minato’s Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park feels like it's another world: Once a feudal lord’s estate, Arisugawa is a sanctuary of winding paths, secluded hideaways, and beautiful bridges. One of Tokyo’s grandest gardens is Rikugien, a famous Edo-era garden colored in autumn by red Japanese maples and in spring by fuchsia azalea blossoms.
    Photo by José Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    Modern Design and Architecture
    Tokyo’s modern design and architecture embrace originality. Odaiba houses many of Tokyo’s ultramodern structures, most notably Fuji TV Building, resembling an erector set with its steel geometric design, and Tokyo Big Sight, reminiscent of an alien spacecraft ready for departure. Mori Tower and Tokyo Midtown both combine striking architecture and high-end shopping in the heart of Roppongi. Maman, a giant metal spider created by Louise Bourgeois, welcomes you to the shops at Mori Tower. The nearby Tokyo Midtown’s extensive grounds include metal sculptures and the sleek 21_21 Design Sight museum. A central feature of Tokyo’s skyline is the prominent Cocoon Tower in Nishi-Shinjuku, which received the 2008 award for Skyscraper of the Year.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Neighborhood Walks: Traverse Tokyo Like a Local
    Tokyo, like many cities, is best explored on foot. Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, is packed with shopping complexes, billboards, and giant screens blaring advertisements. From Shibuya, follow Meiji Dori straight to the heart of the eclectic, fashion-forward Harajuku. The narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets of Harajuku are a likely location to spot teens in anime costumes and eccentric fashion. Asakusa, situated along Sumida River, has an old-world feel with stalls selling traditional goods and great views of the towering Tokyo Skytree and the notorious Asahi Beer Hall. In Ueno Koen, discover shrines tucked behind tree-lined paths and a multitude of museums worth exploring.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Ritual and Sport of Sumo
    Sumo, equal part ritual and sport, was originally performed to entertain the gods during Shinto festivals. 1,500 years later, sumo remains incredibly popular. During sumo tournaments, wrestlers enter the dohyo (ring), clap their hands, and stamp their feet to drive out evil spirits. To win a match, wrestlers must force their opponent outside the ring or make them touch any body part other than their feet to the ground. There are six grand sumo tournaments per year, and three take place in Tokyo: In January, May, and September at Ryogoku Kokugikan. Purchase tickets for the most popular sumo matches and watch the Yokozuna (grand sumo champions) battle.
    Photo by Sylvain Grandadam/age fotostock
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    Day Trips from Tokyo
    Traveling outside of Tokyo reveals the distinct features and fascinating history of Japan. Summit Mount Fuji at sunrise or admire Fujisan from a distance in picturesque Hakone. Venture an hour south of Tokyo to Kamakura, Japan’s medieval capital, which is home to some of the country’s oldest structures, including 65 temples and 19 shrines. Pay a few cents to step inside Kamakura Daibutsu, a 40-foot, nearly 800-year-old bronze Buddha. Journey north of Tokyo to Nikko and see Japan’s most opulent shrine, the resting place of the famous shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. These and many other sites are easily accessible by train.
    Photo by Erin Bogar