Tokyo: The Ancient City From The Future [PHOTO ESSAY]

By @ConnorASheets on

Tokyo's throbbing Kabukichō red-light district.

International Business Times / Tristan Kneschke

TOKYO -- After an extended trip to one of three “command center” capitals of the world economy, I found myself reflecting on the great metropolis that is Tokyo, one of humanity’s landmark settlements. A thought emerged from my sensory-overloaded memories, an idea that got at the essence of this newly visited place. It’s a biased and not particularly informed observation, but one that shapes my already fading memories of a city that endures and evolves as you walk its streets. Tokyo's essence is its intertwining of the futuristic and the ancient, the frenetic and the serene. It's the way even a short stroll through the city often took me on an abridged tour of its history, from the temples and shrines of a long time ago to the screaming lights and eccentricities of the present.

Sensō-ji temple The juxtaposition of the crowded Sensō-ji temple and its tranquil gardens illustrates the essence of modern Tokyo.

This is a tale of Tokyo, but for me the tale began in Paris, where my concept of a city's indelible essence arose five years ago, when I was intrigued by Paris’ challenges to conventional notions of what one is allowed to do with -- and to -- a city. From I.M. Pei’s modern glass pyramid in the courtyard of the classic French Renaissance-style Louvre Museum to Henri de Miller’s strange 1986 L'Écoute sculpture resting literally in the shadow of the centuries-old St. Eustache church, the city is not shy about conflating modernity and antiquity .

Louvre I.M. Pei's iconic glass pyramid can be seen through a window at the Louvre Museum in Paris.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

This idea of a bold city unafraid to obstruct the beauty of its past with the innovations of its present was shaped as I took walks by the Seine.  Tokyo, the site of my first landfall in Asia this summer, presented its own version of that theme: tranquil enclaves among an onslaught of novelty and cacophony that blend into a seamless yet occasionally jarring whole. 

Robot Restaurant A scene from a futuristic show at Tokyo's Shinjuku Robot Restaurant.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

As I meandered through the city, I repeatedly found surprises, places that reshaped my concept of this epic metropolis. Time and again I passed from a glut of neon to an enclave of serene nature.

Tokyo Garden Tokyo's many gardens provide refuge for travelers weary of the city's frantic modern districts.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Tokyo is a place where in just a few minutes you can go from gawking at the sleazy madness of a six-floor sex shop to drifting into a meditative trance in a bastion of silence and antiquity, knowing that you’re following in the footsteps of monks and samurai.

Harajuku Throngs of people cross the street in Harajuku, Tokyo.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

After wandering among the frenetic crush of humanity known as the Harajuku fashion district, I stumbled on the expansive, wooded Yoyogi Park and its inspiring Meiji Shrine, with its 40-ft.-tall tori made of 1,500-year-old cypress. 

Meiji Shrine Tori Forty-feet-tall tori made of 1,500-year-old cypress guard the entrance to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Meiji Shrine The imposing Meiji Shrine provides a welcome respite at the heart of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, just steps from the crowded Harajuku fashion district.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Similarly, after an awkward stroll through the in-your-face Kabukichō red-light district, it was refreshing to duck into an izakaya in the well-preserved, unhurried Golden Gai district just off the main drag, for sake and Asahi.  Even the mundane often resulted in unexpected gems. On a coffee run aimed unsuccessfully at diminishing my pounding headache (sake doesn’t sit well with some Westerners, myself included) the morning after I saw Golden Gai, I discovered a beautiful green space I didn’t know existed, mere feet from the commercial hum, called Shinjuku Central Park.

Shinjuku Central Park A summer scene in Shinjuku Central Park.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

And of course there was another beautiful, imposing structure near the park’s Northwestern border, namely the Kumano Shrine, where a groom and bride posed for photos in traditional Japanese garb. The ceremony was a living example of old meeting new in Tokyo, as skyscrapers loomed overhead.

Kumano Shrine A wedding party takes in the inspiring environs at Kumano Shrine in Tokyo's Shinjuku Central Park.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Perhaps the most recognizable sight in Tokyo is the imposing Imperial Palace, whose expansive grounds gave a discordant response to the busy neighboring Ōtemachi area. It’s the symbol of old Edo, located just steps from the heart of the city's busy financial center.

Imperial Palace Grounds A view of the sparse grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Imperial Palace A guard tower on the grounds of Tokyo's Imperial Palace.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

After fighting through the thronged lanes of Asakusa to snap a few shots of the city’s most crowded tourist trap, namely the Sensō-ji temple, a pleasant garden awaited, seemingly miles from the din. 

Asakusa This Asakusa shopping street leads the way to Tokyo's famed Sensō-ji temple.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

Sensō-ji temple garden A peaceful garden sits just adjacent to the tourist trap that is Tokyo's Sensō-ji temple.  International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets

And then there are the solitary places visitors see and perhaps photograph often in Tokyo, whose provenance I quickly forgot. As I look over the pictures of my journey, I stumble on this one of an aging graveyard with a modern office building built practically on top of it. I can't remember where this was, but it’s immediately recognizable as Tokyo, a place where the kind of juxtaposition the cemetery offered is always just around the corner.

Tokyo Graveyard A Tokyo graveyard rests somewhere in the massive metropolis.  International Business Times / Tristan Kneschke

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