Nakamise-dōri, a pedestrian shopping street which leads directly to the temple of Sensō-ji, is always busy, but today it was packed. All eyes were cast upwards as a 60-foot dragon wound its way through the air, above the crowd. It was March 18th and Sensō-ji was celebrating the Kinryu no Mai, or Golden Dragon Dance.
For such a congested city, Tokyo has a surprising amount of green space. Take, for example, the area directly outside the Imperial Palace. The Kyoko Gaien (Outer Garden) once held the houses of Japan’s provincial lords, but today offers people a place to stretch out on the grass. We visited it and the nearby Hibiya Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
When Tokyo Station opened in 1914, it served four trains. But just like the city itself, the station has grown a little. Today, the sprawling station in the middle of the city serves an almost incomprehensible 3000 trains, every single day.
We had been introduced to Ryogoku while visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and were intrigued enough to return the very next day. The neighborhood’s dominant theme is sumo. Besides the National Sumo Stadium (the Ryogoku Kokugikan), the streets are littered with statues of famous Yokozunas (the highest rank a wrestler can achieve), complete with molds of their terrifying hand-prints.
After noticing the white hulk of the Edo-Tokyo Museum from atop the SkyTree, we wondered how even the world’s biggest city could justify such a monstrous history museum. But when exhibits include full-scale reconstructions of theaters, houses and even a publishing house, the extra room comes in handy.
On September 1st, 1923, Tokyo was struck by the most devastating earthquake in its history. Seventy percent of the city’s housing was destroyed and over 140,000 people lost their lives during the quake, as well as in the subsequent fires which raged uncontrollably through the streets.
Unlike many of the places we’ve visited, Tokyo doesn’t have a history which stretches far into the past. In fact, before the close of the nineteenth century, Tokyo didn’t even exist; it was known instead as Edo. But the rapid ascension from village to “World’s Biggest City” has been as catastrophic as it has been meteoric. Growing pains are always the hardest for those who mature too quickly.
Ever since the artificial island of Tsukishima was created in the middle of the Tokyo Bay in 1892, its western coast has been home to city fishermen and their families. Completely ringed in by canals, it feels nothing like the rest of Tokyo, with quiet lanes instead of busy boulevards, two-story houses instead of steel skyscrapers, and a sleepy sense of small-town tranquility instead of the exhausting bustle of perpetual commerce.
A green oasis floating atop the murky waters of Tokyo Bay, the Hamarikyu Detached Palace Gardens will transport you to the days of the Shogun, as long as you manage to keep your eyes focused on the duck ponds and cherry trees, instead of the impenetrable row of skyscrapers on the horizon.
With over 60,000 employees and billions of dollars in yearly commerce, Tsukiji is the biggest fish market in the world. The action begins every morning at 3am, as shipments of fresh and frozen fish from around the world arrive over land and sea.