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Memorializing Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this Shinto shrine was originally constructed in 1920 at the site of an iris garden known to have been favored by the royal couple. Ascending the throne in 1867, Emperor Meiji spearheaded the Meiji Restoration, drawing Japan from the veils of feudalism. The traditional nagare-zukuri shrine is built amid an evergreen forest comprised of numerous trees from across Japan; a token of gratitude donated by the people. Simple, yet elegant, the Meiji Jingū is isolated from the bustle of Tokyo, its verdant shroud softening the sounds of the vibrant metropolis. Nearby lies the enchanting inner garden, a field of iris blooms in June. The Imperial Treasure House at the shrine also exhibits the coronation carriage and several other intriguing mementos. What stands today is a reconstruction of the original shrine, built in 1958 after its predecessor sustained severe damage during World War II.
The Shinjuku Gyo-en blends Western and Eastern influences in its layout with English, French and conventional Japanese gardens. It also features quaint tea ceremony houses and a greenhouse with a considerable collection of tropical plants. It is most famous for its cherry blossom trees, which in early spring paint the stunning landscape in different hues of fluttering pink and draw visitors in droves owing to their spellbinding beauty. The garden is an ideal place to get some fresh air, relax amidst nature and lift your spirits.
This naturally wooded park adjoins the Meiji Jingu Shrine, and until 1996, it hosted Tokyo's amateur rock and roll bands, who strutted their stuff every Sunday. They have since moved to Omotesando, and Yoyogi Park has become quiet, and ideal for groups of friends and families who like to enjoy a tranquil Sunday afternoon strolling by small ponds filled with koi (Japanese carp). Rental bicycles are available within the grounds during summer.
Shibuya is a district in Tokyo that is known for its shopping and fashion. Start the day at the well-known meeting spot, Hachiko Statue, then head down any street to find great stores. Book 1st is a fantastic book store and Mandarake is the perfect place to peruse anime comics or toys. Find a great outfit at Hysteric Glamour or discover a great song at Tower Records. If you have a child, or are a kid at heart, don't miss the Disney Store. However, head to Shibuya 109 if you want to do all of your shopping at once. This impressive mall is located in the middle of the street and is both a landmark and a shopping center.
Nestled in the recesses of Nagatachō, the iconic Hei Shrine upholds the spirit of the Shinto school. The temple enshrines Oyamakui-no-kami, its architecture comprising traditional elements like pointed roofs and scarlet, lacquered furnishings. Dating back to 1478, this revered shrine was originally built inside the Edo Castle to serve as protection from enemies. It was moved to its present site in 1659, with its role as guardian of the palace unfazed and unchanged. Although the facade is insignificant concrete, the torii gate bears inscriptions and glorious images of monkeys, which are believed to be messengers of the shrine's deity. A fine collection of Tokugawa swords and other relics are also on display in the shrine museum. An iconic sanctum in the midst of Tokyo's cosmopolitan din, the shrine does not just reverberate with an ardor which has shaped the religious course of the country, but also carries within itself legendary traces of the Kamakura eon.
The glorious Kōkyo (Tokyo Imperial Palace) is a magnificent structure in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward, nestled amid open parkland. The Fukiage, East, and Ninomaru Gardens front the palace, which is steeped in history and architectural excellence. Since Tokyo became the political and imperial capital in 1868, the Imperial Palace has served as the official royal residence. Located in what was once the inner section of Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawa shogun, this piece of prime real estate in central Tokyo is enclosed by walls and moats. The structure gives way to an equally elegant interior, which includes the Hōmeiden State Banquet Hall, the Rensui Dining Room and the Chōwaden Reception Hall among other sections. Only on two occasions—January 2 (New Year) and 23 February (Emperor Naruhito's birthday) do the Emperor and the Royal Family emerge and wave to the gathering crowd from behind bulletproof windows.
Akihabara refers to the eastern side of the Chiyoda section of Tokyo. A vibrant and trendy hub, it is sometimes referred to as "Electric Town" because of the high concentration of stores selling all things electronic. Find the latest video games, gadgets, iPods, and cameras at Yodobashi Akiba, a multi-storied flagship store, or peruse the Tokyo Animation Center where you can watch showings and demonstrations on gaming and animation. Almost every shop here sells electronics, so the possibilities for technology enthusiasts are limitless. Akihabara is best known for its association with otaku culture, a term that encompasses people's all-consuming love of anime and manga. It's not surprising that all kinds of associated imagery are prominently reflected in a number of businesses, buildings, and even sidewalks in the area.
Kabuki-za, the main kabuki theater in Tokyo since 1889, usually features two daily performances each consisting of three or four plays, and the repertoire is changed monthly. For 650 Yen, non-Japanese-speaking visitors can hire earphones that give an explanation in English. The visitor who does not have time for an entire performance can buy a ticket for the 4th floor to watch part of the show, but earphones are not available. Five restaurants provide a wide range of Japanese food and refreshments for visitors.
Ginza is one of Japan's, and perhaps Asia's, most prestigious shopping areas. Many up-market retail shops have their flagship stores here. Ginza attracts smart and elegant shoppers and office workers as well as students in t-shirts. There are countless wining and dining places to choose from ranging from the reasonable to the outrageously expensive. You can also participate in and enjoy the events which take place in the vibrant district all year round. If you have the money to spend, Ginza should be on your itinerary.
Wreathed in an atmosphere of a working-class neighborhood set in the pre-1923 Great Kanto Earthquake days, the Shitamachii Museum is an evocative representation of the bygone glory of Japan. It is home to a string of traditional, Japanese-style houses which, much paradoxically, lie nestled amid the soaring high-rises of Tokyo. A mural on the landing between the first and second floors depicts peddlers, artisans and blue-collar workers going about their daily life during the Edo period. The extensive display of household items gives a fascinating peek into a lifestyle from days gone by. A striking nexus of antiquity and unhindered cultural intrigue, the museum displays insightful exhibits which can be explored and understood with the help of an English speaking guide. A glimpse of Japanese history, the museum is no less than a time machine, transporting its visitors to the Edo era.
Ueno Zoological Gardens, over 100 years old, is one of the oldest zoos in the country. The gardens are home to a multitude of birds, Siberian tigers, monkeys, gorillas, Giant Pandas, giraffes, and other animals from all over the world. There is also a children's petting zoo at the southern end. A pagoda-like structure, dating back to 1631, stands on one end of the park and adds a touch of Japanese history into the mix. Perfectly combining history and wildlife, this attraction makes for a rewarding experience for adults and children alike.
Founded in 1926, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum displays a wide range of Japanese art forms in its six huge galleries. Apart from organizing exhibitions of traditional Japanese crafts, graphic design and calligraphy by contemporary Japanese artists, the museum also holds art lectures and workshops for upcoming enthusiasts. Admission prices vary as per the exhibition. For more details, check the website.