We had spent the morning admiring Kawagoe’s Edo-style kura-zukuri buildings and visiting the museums found along its main strip. After a long lunch, we felt rested enough to continue our exploration of the city.
Today, it’s hidden in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, but the temple of Zojo-ji was once among the grandest in Japan. This was the Tokugawa clan’s favored place of worship, and the resting place of many shoguns. We visited the temple on Buddha’s birthday and, afterwards, took time to check out the nearby Shiba Detached Palace Garden.
Although it’s been unseated from its position as Japan’s tallest structure (and, at 333 meters, is positively Lilliputian in comparison to the new champion, Oshiage’s 634-meter SkyTree), the Tokyo Tower remains a popular tourist attraction. Modeled on the Eiffel Tower and painted bright orange, the tower has been a part of the city’s skyline since opening in 1958.
Sumo wrestling might be the country’s most traditional pastime and soccer is gaining ground every year, but Japan’s sporting obsession has long been baseball. I always love a trip to the ballpark, so we visited the Meiji Jingu Stadium for a match between the Yakult Swallows and the Hanshin Tigers.
Although it houses a priceless collection of bronze sculpture from China, along with artwork that spans the history of Japan, the most valuable commodity of the Nezu Museum might be its tranquility. Outside lurks the distressingly crowded shopping mecca of Omotesando, but inside this museum, we found one of Tokyo’s most peaceful corners.
The street of Omotesando-dori, leading westward to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, has earned a reputation as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. With haute couture brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton occupying architecturally ambitious buildings, and Tokyo’s most stylish citizenry stalking the sidewalks, a stroll along Omotesando-dori is both impressive and humbling.
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.
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.
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.
Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.