1. Remembering Edo
Old Tokyo is gone. During the Second World War, bombers literally razed the city to the ground and the current skyscrapers did not have to fight for a place under the Sun with the ancient blocks. The Imperial Palace from which Tokyo arose (then called Edo), was rebuilt in its place in the 1960s, and is worth a visit, mainly because of an antique park with a Japanese garden. Here, everything is according to the canon: maples, sakuras and pine trees, a wisteria-twined gazebo, a stone lantern, a tea house, and water both silent (a hieroglyph-heart shaped pond) and speaking (a brook and a waterfall).
2. Bargaining by the temple
The way to Sensō-ji in the Asakusa area, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo (legend says it was founded in 628), begins at the main gate marked with a giant paper lantern, and goes through the famous Nakamise souvenir street. Trading here was allowed in the 17th century (after the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made Tokyo the administrative capital). Kimonos, Hokusai engravings, rice sweets, katanas, fans and Daruma dolls – the whole folkloric potential of the capital is now here. Before entering the temple, the water from the spring and the incense cup with fragrances will cleanse a visitor from the perishable consumer fuss.
3. Long Road to dream fulfillment
Daruma is a poly doll personifying Bodhidharma, who, after many years of meditation, lost the use of his hands and feet. It is not just a souvenir, but also an object of domestic sympathetic magic. The head is sold with white empty eye sockets. Make a wish and draw a pupil on Daruma’s eye. If the wish is fulfilled within a year, Bodhidharma will fully “recover his sight” – the second eye is drawn and the doll is then stored in a conspicuous place. If not, they burn it in the temple fire. According to one version, it was Daruma that became the prototype of Russian matryoshka, invented in 1890s by artist Sergei Milyutin.
4. Electronic noise
The new Japan is the Akihabara area, an electronic-game-souvenir paradise. It’s nice to remember the tea ceremony and marvel at how this clinking painted kitsch aesthetics gets along with authentic minimalism. Multi-story supermarkets burst from photographic, video and computer technology, luring with one-armed bandits on the ground floors. Here, you can buy anything; from drones to charms with plastic sushi or a backpack shaped like a hamburger. The shops with manga comics and floors with toys that embody their characters constitute pop-culture landmarks. They are both for children, and rather frivolously, for adult connoisseurs.
5. Elusive deliciousness
If you have not been to the Tsukiji Fish Market yet, it’s time to go! One of Tokyo’s main culinary attractions is about to leave the historic site, and new modern pavilions have already been built for it. Getting to the famous tuna auction, where restaurateurs and suppliers battle for fresh 300-kilogram carcasses, is difficult, and you can skip it. Particularly as it starts at five in the morning. Instead, go for an impromptu morning excursion with breakfast – this option is far more interesting. To begin with, compare the three types of tuna meat: otoro (abdomen, the lightest and most fatty meat, which melts once in your mouth), akami (wine-red lean thick spine) i chutoro (middle section and something like average to the taste).
6. Full load
Shibuya does not change: the busiest intersection in the world, to the joy of tourists, is becoming even more crowded. The visit to this comprehensive shopping area consists of two phases – contemplative and active. It’s best to observe the flow of people that rush through all these zebra crossings at regular intervals from above – for example, from the gallery of the Mark City mall. The active phase features running and taking pictures. If you have the Hyperlapse mobile application, you can get the accelerated video “I’m on Shibuya”: all you need to do is to jump out onto the drive way faster than everyone else, stand still, and give a signal to the assistant, who stays on the sidewalk and records as the crowd flows around you. And selfie with a monument to the faithful Hachikō dog at the entrance to the subway is also a must.
7. Cruise to Freedom
You can access the artificial island of Odaiba, which once served as a landfill, and now is built up with offices of huge corporations, by driving on the Rainbow Bridge across the Tokyo Bay, but it’s better to take a cruise ship that goes from Asakusa near the Sensō-ji Temple. Then there are two options: a leisurely walk on the embankment to the Statue of Liberty (which is four times smaller than the one in New York) plus a dinner with a view of the bay, or a trip to the Miraikan and Toyota Mega Web museums.
8. Red versus White
Meiji, the largest Shinto temple in Tokyo, is surrounded by a large (more than 70 hectares) garden into which plants from all over Japan were brought. If you are lucky, you will see a wedding ceremony in the Memorial Hall (if you wish, you can arrange a wedding for yourself). At the entrance, next to the Torii gate, empty sake barrels are shining – according to tradition, the containers of the producers who make an offering to the temple are put on public display. French winemakers decided not miss such an opportunity, and now, there is also a wall of oak Burgundy barrels.
9. The present future
An exposition in the Miraikan or the “Museum of the Future” on Odaiba is an attempt to show what the today’s science knows about man, earth and the universe, as well as to take a glance into the day of tomorrow. Therefore, the halls are bursting with visual interactive devices such as a globe assembled from ten thousand LED-panels and a seismograph tracking and recording earth tremors all over Japan in real time. The museum regularly changes its temporary exhibitions, and organizes workshops both for children and adults. Four times a day, following the schedule, the robot-humanoid Asimo performs its tricks on a ten-minute program (details can be found on the official website, the English version is available).
10. Contact established
Cat-cafés, where you can talk to purring cuties, happily avoiding the ripped sofa armrests, and night-hunt on your feet under a blanket, are no longer a novelty. So now, owl-cafés have become more popular in Tokyo. And let the name not mislead you: the menu only contains owls; no sushi, no beer, no sake. Register on the site (in advance; a full week before the visit, the seats may become unavailable), come at the scheduled time, and then spend an hour in the company of aves: there are the little owls, as well as the long-eared owl with incredibly huge obsidian eyes. Lectures on the habits and predilections of owls are also available in English.
High-Rise Art. The Tokyo map is a great illusion. The flat paper does not take into account the third vertical dimension. Meanwhile, the city grows upwards with its overpasses and cuts into the ground with its multi-story underground complexes. Multilevel highways and walking areas rise up above the ground. Many skyscrapers also have observation platforms. Among the most popular is the deck (pictured) located in the Roppongi Quarter on the roof of the Mori Tower (238 m), which is the sixth-tallest building in Tokyo. Going there you can also visit the Mori Art Museum on the 53rd floor of the same building.
Record-setting status. Japan is located at the junction of three tectonic plates, and strong earthquakes are not uncommon here. All the same, Tokyo’s skyscrapers perfectly withstand tremors and year-on-year become higher due to the use of seismic-resistant construction technologies. Thanks to them, in 2012, the spire of the tallest television tower in the world, the 634-meter Skytree, pierced the sky over the Japanese capital. The building is fitted with an observation deck at 350-meter level and a circular gallery at an altitude of 450 meters. In clear weather, Fuji is visible on the horizon.
Spiritual level. Still, the old Tokyo Tower (333 m), which is at least half the size of the Skytree, remains the symbol of the city; it became famous all over the world due to frequent appearances in films and comics – in the Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, it fell down from an earthquake, and King Kong more than once fought with Godzilla under it. Today, the Tokyo Tower is a tourist attraction with a four-story entertainment center and two observation decks, at 150 and 250 meters. The lower one is more interesting: it features glass windows in the floor, a nightclub and a Shinto shrine.
- Hot, and even hotter. There are quite a few bath complexes on the thermal springs located in the center of the city, but it is better to head in the direction of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and find an onsen with a view of Fuji. Onsen is a spa area, but without excesses like flowers floating in bowls and romantic candles. By paying some 1,500 yen, you can get access to all the water activities: an outdoor thermal swimming pool, a jacuzzi, hammam, sauna, plunge tub. In the recreation area, you can drink tea, and even take a nap for as long as you like.
- Let it all come true. Buddhism and Shinto are so closely interwoven into the Japanese consciousness that the shrines of these two religions are often located side by side. A sure sign that you are in the territory of the Shinto are the gates of Torii and clusters of ema, special wooden plaques. When you buy such a plaque, write a wish on it and hang it on a special stand in the temple. Once there are enough ema, the monks will burn them, and the kami (the omnipresent deities of heaven and earth) will immediately hear the petitions.
- Mutation of a Geisha. Although the term ‘maid café’ comes from the English word maid, its actual origins lie in anime, manga and a great passion for cosplay. Kawaii pseudo-French maids (short skirts, high socks, aprons) serve coffee or tea and bring a dessert (alcohol is excluded). In fact, apart from the maid-courtesy and inflated prices, there is nothing to wait for in such cafes. Go through the akihabara District, take a look at the tout girls, and decide if you are ready to become their regular customer.
- KAWAII! Remember that word. It is translated as ‘cute’, but you need to hear the intonation with which a pretty girl in army boots and a Hello kitty backpack directs it to her friend trying on an oversize shirt. What would be kawaii, and what would be worn this season by half of Asia (if not by half the world) is decided by Tokyo teenagers, to whom the designers of the leading brands listen. At first, the characters from the crowd somewhere on Shibuya or Omotesando seem too extravagant, but soon, you get used to this self-expression, although it is sometimes not easy to distinguish a street-style star from a hobo.
Теxt: Olga Savelieva