Many People, Many Signs, Many Trains: Tokyo in a Nutshell

As was previously established, Tokyo has many people.

Though it wasn’t crowded everywhere, and especially not as uniformly crowded as I had expected before arriving, from time to time we came across scenes that don’t really have an equivalent in central Europe.

But of all the crowded spots in Tokyo, one stands out: Shibuya crossing. One of Tokyo’s diagonal pedestrian crossings, this intersection – named after the part of town it is located in – is crossed by around one million people each and every day. Up to 2,500 people cross over each time the light goes green. In many ways, this place is similar to New York’s Times Square, surrounded by big TV screens showing ads, and experiencing heavy traffic almost all the time. The odds are relatively good that you have heard of this place – the tragic story of the dog Hachiko, who waits for his owner every day when he comes home from work, until one day he doesn’t, is set at Shibuya station.

Shibuya isn’t the only place with many flashy billboards, though. They are spread out in clusters throughout the city; along shopping streets, near major train stations, etc. After a while you just get used to them and block them out – which ignites an arms race between advertisers and pedestrians, resulting in crazier, brighter, more colorful billboards.

Tokyo, despite its exaggerated capitalism and extreme modernity also has a more traditional side to it. It is, after all, the capital city of the last country on earth to be ruled by an emperor. In fact, a large green space sits smack-bang in the center of Tokyo, in Chiyoda, for that reason: it is the emperor’s residence. As a visitor, you likely won’t be getting any closer than the moat that surrounds the entire complex made up of three separate palaces but it is nonetheless an impressive sight and a unique atmosphere – especially when the summer sun is heating up the temperatures over the pavement to well above 40°C.

This of course is not the palace, rather it is a view of the “center” of Tokyo from the park surrounding the palace.

Another green spot exists in the city: The Meiji Shrine Kaguraden, in the Yoyogi park and near the Yamanote line, was built in 1920 and dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who had passed away in 1912. At the shrine, there are hundreds of sake barrels on display. Historically, the Japanese have always said that sake brings the gods and the mortals closer together; so it only makes sense to place them at a holy site.

No matter how historic the site that you’re visiting, you will always remember that you are in one of the world’s important economies and a city that has clearly arrived and found its place in the 21st century. Take the the picture of the Tokyo Tower, well, towering over the Buddhist Zojo-ji temple, for instance.

In conclusion – Tokyo, unsurprisingly, really is worth a visit. And when you do, make sure you have enough time in the city. I stayed for ten days, and there were scores of other things I would have loved to do and see. Make sure you plan ahead before arriving, make sure to inform yourself about events and other things that may be going on so that you don’t miss out on a single chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the capital of this world’s last literal Empire.

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