Tokyo has been at the center of Japanese politics since the early 1600s, when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu upset the balance of power by moving his court here, far away from the traditional capital of Kyoto. Ieyasu’s original castle is now gone, replaced by the more modern Imperial Palace. We joined a brief tour to get a peek behind the gates.
It’s hard to say exactly when Tokyo started to frighten me, but it was probably during our visit to Yoyogi Park. While watching Japanese rockabillies bounce-step to Joan Jett, I moved out of the way for a couple dressed in… let’s call it “Victorian Gothic Steampunk, Pastels Version.” And that’s when it hit home: something’s not quite right in this city.
Directly across from one of Tokyo’s craziest areas (Harajuku) is one of its most serene. Built to guard the spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Consort Shōken, the Meiji Shrine is tucked away in a large evergreen forest, which neither the city’s noise nor stress can reach.
Perched atop the Niimi Building, the giant head of an Italian chef welcomes visitors to Kappabashi-dōri, where Tokyo’s restaurants come to buy the things they need to run their business: chopsticks, cups, bowls, knives, takeaway containers, and naturally, an infinite variety of plastic foods.
For a short period at the beginning of April, the word “sakura” becomes a prominent noun in approximately 75% of the sentences spoken in Tokyo. Because when the city’s cherry trees bloom, there’s no talking about anything else. You’re either chatting about the blossoms, planning your picnic in the park, sitting in a rowboat under the trees, or strolling along a path while the petals flutter to the ground like the sweetest, most fragrant snowfall imaginable.
The streetcars which once crisscrossed Tokyo have almost completely disappeared, made obsolete by the faster underground metro. But in the northern neighborhood of Minoya, we found a lonely tram which has survived into the present day. The Arakawa Line runs to Waseda via Asukayama Park, where we disembarked to visit a museum dedicated to paper.
Asahi Breweries is headquartered inside one of Tokyo’s stranger works of architecture. The building is meant to resemble an overflowing mug, with an amber drop of beer splashing down its side… but that drop looks an awful lot like something else. Locals have lovingly nicknamed the Asahi Beer Hall, the “Golden Poo.”
Its reputation as the pleasure center of Tokyo has long since faded, the Kabuki theaters have relocated and geishas mostly vanished, but the northeastern neighborhood of Asakusa still boasts a few worthwhile attractions apart from the temple of Sensō-ji.