Tokyo is the world’s largest city, filled with high-rise buildings, neon lights, game arcades, gadget stores and random stuff. It is a thronging, pulsating and kaleidoscopic city that blends in the familiar elements of international urban living with a touch of Japanese ingenuity and design to create a unique world of its own. It is dynamic, futuristic, remarkably safe and the people are so polite; they would go out of their way to help the lost tourist with directions even if they don’t speak much English. On the outskirts, snow-capped from winter to early summer, Mount Fuji forms a mystical backdrop to Tokyo, visible across the city to the southwest. Besides the bustle of the metropolitan city, Tokyo is also home to huge parks and gardens which offer respite from the busy city streets. Ueno park is one of them. Being the oldest park in the city, it has something for everyone, from the national museum to shrines, temples, zoo and a boating lake. I was lucky enough to see some cherry blossoms in Ueno Park even though it was still wintertime when I visited and majority of the trees were still barren. This probably sums up my fantastic moments in Tokyo.
Old Tokyo also survives in the many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples. Senso-ji in Asakusa is the oldest and most famous Buddhist temple, an extensive complex of elaborately painted wooden gateways, halls and pagoda-like structures set in gardens. The more austere Meiji shrine is the most famous Shinto temple and a focus of popular festivities such as the New Year’s Eve countdown. At Meiji shrine, one can understand the close relations between Japan and France as the then Japanese emperor opened its doors to Western influence, learning how to make wine and whisky in the process. Another living aspect of traditional Japanese culture is on show at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the stadium that hosts the main sumo tournaments.
Tokyoites love to see their city from a high viewpoint as much as they like to admire the cherry blossoms in spring (hanami 花見). As a result, observation decks are offered on the top floors of several of the buildings that cluster in the high-rise district of Shinjuku. And now the Tokyo Skytree dominates the city skyline, being the world’s tallest freestanding tower. Japan has always looked at France for inspiration, judging from Tokyo tower which resembles the Eiffel Tower and the numerous bakeries in town selling French bread or with French-sounding names.
For those who have had enough of the crowded big city, you can easily go to other towns like Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo for more natural scenery and less crowded areas.
|early cherry blossoms at Ueno Park|