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Dynamic Tokyo

Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines
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 the 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
    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 shoguns and samurai. Receive an omikuji (fortune) at Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji in Asakusa, but beware—they can be curses or blessings. Surrounding Sensoji is Nakamise Dori, the central street in the centuries-old shopping district, with shops offering kimonos, fans, tapestries, and other traditional goods.
    Photo by Kobby Dagan/age fotostock
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    Stunning Views: Tokyo from Above
    Stunning Views: Tokyo from Above
    Tokyo viewed from above appears as 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. If you want to truly relax while taking in the views of the city, book a treatment at the Mandarin Oriental Spa.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Modern Art, Design, and Contemporary Architecture
    Modern Art, Design, and Contemporary Architecture
    Fascinating modern art and landmarks of contemporary architecture abound in Japan’s capital. Near the Tokyo Midtown shopping district is 21_21 Design Sight, an eclectic museum by famed architect Tadao Ando and co-curated by Issey Miyake, whose exhibits center on the influence of design on daily life. You can experience the work of another leading Japanese contemporary architect, Kengo Kuma, at the Nezu Museum. The design of the National Art Center, Tokyo is as interesting as its exhibits, with a wavy glass exterior and a vast interior with giant inverted cones of concrete. In Ginza, you'll find iconic Tokyo landmarks like Tokyo Station but also new ones such as the Mikimoto store by Toyo Ito and the Louis Vuitton store by Jun Aoki. Odaiba houses many of Tokyo’s ultramodern structures, most notably the Fuji TV Building, resembling an Erector set with its steel geometric design, and Tokyo Big Sight, reminiscent of an alien spacecraft ready for departure. Omotesando Hills, in Shibuya, is Tadao Ando's masterpiece, and just happens to be a shopping mall.
    Photo by Marie Takahashi
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    Impeccably Manicured Parks and Gardens
    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. The Nezu Museum has a manicured garden that is almost as beautiful as the works of art on display inside. In the center of Tokyo, the gardens of the Imperial Palace reflect 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. The Meiji Jingu Shrine is also home to beautiful gardens (with a separate admission fee). It's especially famous for its iris garden—if you visit in June you can see the spectacle of a "river" of irises in bloom—but the gardens as a whole are delightful in every season. Ueno Park, one of Japan's very first public parks, is home to the Tokyo National Museum, housing an impressive collection of cultural treasures and artifacts. And if you want to experience a Japanese hot spring in a parklike setting, visit Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari on Odaiba island in Tokyo Bay.
    Photo by José Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    Neighborhood Walks: Traverse Tokyo Like a Local
    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 eclectic, fashion-forward Harajuku. The narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets there are a likely location to spot teens in anime costumes and eccentric fashions. Asakusa, situated along the Sumida River, has an old-world feel, with stalls selling traditional goods and great views of the towering Tokyo Skytree and the architecturally controversial Asahi Beer Hall. In Ueno Park, discover shrines tucked behind tree-lined paths, as well as a multitude of quality museums. If your visit coincides with cherry blossom season, hit the trendy neighborhood of Nakameguro along the Meguro River for its festival, great shopping, and eating, especially under the train tracks in the Kokashita complex.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Day Trips from Tokyo
    Day Trips from Tokyo
    Traveling outside of Tokyo reveals the distinct features and fascinating history of Japan. Climb Mount Fuji at sunrise or admire it from a distance in picturesque Hakone, which lures travelers from the capital with its hot springs and museums. 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. For a glimpse of Japan from around 1603 to 1868, Kawagoe, where many of the buildings in the old part of town have been preserved and now house artisans' shops and restaurants, is an hour away. These and many other sites are easily reached by train.
    Photo by Erin Bogar
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    Shopping: Browse or Buy
    Shopping: Browse or Buy
    From huge, modern malls to multistoried department stores to gritty shotengai jammed with tiny mom-and-pop shops, you don't have to be a power shopper to enjoy prowling for finds, whether you're in search of the latest electronics, a vintage suit coat, delicate handmade stationery, or a toy you won't get anywhere else. If you want to up your cooking game, Kiya has been selling Japanese knives and other kitchenware since 1792. Looking for high-end shopping all under one roof? Ginza Six boasts more than 200 stores, as well as a huge rooftop garden should you need to take a break to let your wallet cool off. Daikanyama T-Site is not only home to one of Japan's most iconic bookstores, Tsutaya, but its three buildings are an architectural gem. For surprisingly affordable tableware, stationery, and gifts to bring back home, Seria 100 Yen Shop (the equivalent of a dollar store) has an amazing array. For those with a particular penchant for paper, pens, pencils, and notebooks, Ito-ya has 12 floors of all things stationery.
    Photo by Takahiro Yanai