Tokyo Old and New

What do you think of when you hear about Japan?

Perhaps the most technologically advanced country in the world, Japan is as dynamic and modern as a country can possibly be. Nevertheless, it is also a nation deeply entrenched in history and traditional culture. It is this uncanny diversity that intrigues travellers around the globe to arrive at its shores.

Tokyo, the capital, is the prime example of this coexistence of Old and New. Few places capture the imagination of traditional Japan as poignantly as Asakusa. Yet a mere fifteen-minute walk away stands the Tokyo SKYTREE, the latest symbol of Japanese modernity and technology. Their proximity makes an ideal excursion, into the past and present of this bustling metropolis.

Sensoji Temple is the oldest and perhaps the most famous Buddhist temple in Japan. You might not have heard of the Kaminarimon (‘Thunder Gate’), but you probably have seen its giant red lantern on postcards. Flanked by the Gods of Wind and Thunder, the lantern of Kaminarimon is now a world-famous symbol of what traditional Japan entails. As is the case for ancient safeguards of mythical legends, the longstanding history seems to make the entrance evermore powerful and daunting.

Stepping through the Kaminarimon, we immediately travel back in time. While the temple is a post-war reconstruction, what happens within its grounds remains largely unaltered through the centuries. The Nakamise-dori is an arcade of shops that sells all kinds of Japanese souvenirs, old and new. Dating back to the Edo period, ningyo-yaki (a sweetened bean cake) is the most popular of all. Originally made in shapes of lucky charms, it now takes all kinds of forms – including Hello Kitty-, just another connection of past and present in modern Japan. And yes, they are incredibly tasty!

Passing the Nakamise-dori I found myself in sacred grounds. As the largest temple in the city, I must say it is simply exceptional that one can still find pagodas and temples this magnificent in the centre of this metropolis. Although it is a major tourist magnet, it is also very popular among the locals. Therefore, it is the place to observe how the modern Japanese incorporates their traditional and spiritual side into their busy modern lives. Give omikuji, a form of fortune telling, a try!

Only a stone’s throw away to the East from Sensoji stands the latest, ultramodern landmark of Japan. Only opened last year, the Tokyo Skytree is , at 634m, the tallest structure in Japan (and only trails Burj Khalifa in world rankings). The mere fact that this mammoth broadcasting tower exists in such an earthquake-prone country is testament in Japan’s technological and engineering achievements.

The Tokyo Skytree has its observation decks in 350m and 450m, both offer unrestricted view of the city: there is nothing nearly as tall. If you are more fortunate in terms of weather than myself when you visit, you may even catch glimpses of the other symbol of Japan: Mt. Fuji nearly 90 miles away to the west. Just like seemingly everywhere else in Japan, the observation decks are equipped with computer screens blessed with the most advanced technologies, which help you navigate the urban sprawl of Tokyo in front of your eyes. What most fascinated me was the history feature though: one can actually see how Tokyo has changed throughout the year on-screen. Once again, the Old and New together.

The charm of Tokyo is that past and present are never far apart; the Japanese seems to have mastered the way for them to coexist. T could be for Temples, it could also be for Technology, but in Tokyo, they can be both.