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The iconic images associated with Tokyo of crowded road crossings, billboard-covered squares and the imposing backdrop of Mount Fuji only tell one part of the city’s thrilling story. Japan’s constantly surprising capital is forever innovating, so that even within the limited space of the packed cityscape, there is always something new to see. Woven into the ultra-modernity of Tokyo is a reverence towards traditional Japanese culture that stretches centuries into the past.
To dive into the more hectic side of Tokyo life, pound the pavements of skyscraper-lined Shinjuku and the fashion-obsessed Harajuku, or take in the sounds and smells of manic Tsukiji Fish Market. Not all of the city moves at this fast pace, however; you’ll find serenity beneath the blossoms of several public gardens. For the ultimate zen experience, take part in a traditional tea ceremony.
Find traces of Tokyo’s colourful and romantic past poking out between the shining glass and steel of the modern capital. The Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari baths on the artificial island of Odaiba replicate Edo-era Japan, while the ornate costumes and sets of kabuki plays maintain traditions that have existed since that period. The temples of Senso-ji and Meiji-jingu were reconstructed in the 20th century but you can still follow in the footsteps of Tokyo’s ancient religious customs there.
The culture of contemporary Tokyo sits happily alongside its heritage sights. Modern sightseeing highlights include the Ghibli Museum, which celebrates the eponymous studio’s wondrous animation in a quirky house designed by its foremost director Hayao Miyazaki. Don’t miss the 450-metre viewing platform of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest free-standing tower in the world.
Tokyo residents have an almost spiritual attitude towards food, and the city with the most Michelin stars in the world has no shortage of fabulous restaurants that serve the very best in Japanese cuisine. You don’t need to be splashing out on famous chefs to enjoy Tokyo’s foodie scene, either. Edo-mae, the name given to the style of sushi that originated here, can be found in market stalls and family-run restaurants in every region of the city.
Tokyo is easy to get lost in, but public transport goes a long way to alleviating the confusion. Purchase a Suica card, which carries a pre-paid balance and can be used on almost all subways, trains and buses. Taxis are convenient but can be expensive. Most districts of the city are safe to walk around, even at night. Allow yourself to wander around the lesser-known streets and sights; in this city, there is always more to discover.