City of contrasts: How to experience the best of Tokyo’s two sides

29-Nov-2019 Intellasia | CNN | 8:11 AM Print This Post

Tokyo is arguably one of the most modern cities in the world, a heaving metropolis with its sights set fully on the future.

But look closer and you’ll see plenty of examples of how it has embraced its cultural traditions along the way.

Founded as Edo, modern-day Tokyo was the seat of power for the ruling Tokugawa shogunatethe Japanese military governmentfrom 1603 until 1868. During this period of stability, the city established its status as a global metropolis, where the Ukiyo, or “floating world,” lifestyle blossomed.

Residents settled into the pleasure-seeking aspects of the culture: indulging in kabuki performances, geisha entertainers and sumo wrestling conteststraditions that continue today.

Scenes from the era were captured in Ukiyo-epaintings and woodblock printssuch as “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai. They depicted subjects such as samurai warriors, nature landscapes and even erotica.

A new exhibition celebrating the great Ukiyo-e artists of that era has just opened at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It’s just one of a huge number of events celebrating art, music and danceboth traditional and contemporarybeing held as the city gears up for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

But evidence of Tokyo’s ability to honor the customs of the pastall while forging the city of the futurecan be found throughout the city as well.

Here, we offer a travel guide on how to fully immerse yourself in the best of Tokyo’s old and new while visiting some popular city districts.

Tokyo’s Roppongi district might be most famous for its nightlife, but its raucous reputation has recently given way to a more refined set of nightclubs, bars and restaurantswith companies like Apple and Google even settling into the expat-friendly neighbourhood.

It’s also a top destination for art lovers.

The Mori Art Museum, for instance, sits atop Mori Tower, one of Tokyo’s tallest and most prominent buildings. (Part of the Roppongi Hills complex, the tower’s rooftop Tokyo City View offers views of nearby Tokyo Tower and a 360-degree view of the surrounding neon cityscape.)

Upcoming exhibitions at the museum, which highlights contemporary Asian art, include next year’s “STARS: Six Contemporary Artists from Japan to the World” exhibition, running April 23 until September 6, 2020. It features some of Asia’s best-known international artists: Yayoi Kusama, Lee Ufan, Tatsuo Miyajima, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Completing the “Art Triangle Roppongi” are the National Art centreJapan’s largest art museumand Tokyo Midtown’s Suntory Museum of Art, which is closed for renovations until May 2020.

While in the area, we recommend honoring the origins of Roppongi, which trace back to the funeral of Shogun Hidetada’s wife, Oeyo, in 1626. The stately affair included a procession from Roppongi to downhill Zōjō-ji Temple.

The funeral procession gathered the elite of the era, and as gratitude for planning the event, the four Buddhist priests responsible were rewarded handsomely. They invested their sums into building new temples, shops and houses that would entice settlers to the development.

Today, the Buddhist temple retains its original 69-foot-tall gate. Constructed in 1622, the Sangedatsumon stands as the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo.

One of Tokyo’s most traditional neighbourhoods, historic Asakusa’s charms centre around the oldest and perhaps most eminent Buddhist temple in the citySensō-ji.

The bright red temple, completed in 645, is punctuated by the adjacent five-story pagoda, the Asakusa Shinto shrine. Visited by millions annually, the initial entry gate, the Kaminarimon, is a symbol of both Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo.

Meanwhile, also dating back centuries, nearby Nakamise shopping street stretches out along the approach to Sensō-ji, brimming with souvenir shops. The classical surroundings make it a popular destination for tourists to don yukatas and kimonos, which are available to rent or buy.

In the evening, when the stores lock up for the evening, their shutters reveal an elaborate mural painted of a ukiyo-e scene.

The world’s tallest tower, the 2,080-foot-tall Tokyo Skytree looms down many of Asakusa’s lengthy side streets, while the area’s riverside views have become a preferred location to watch the sunset and the glittering skyline illuminate at night.


Category: Japan

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