There’s no denying the big-city charms of Tokyo. The enormous, shiny buildings packed in tightly, nestling little ramen shops and houses between them. The neon lights, colours, music and announcements. The activity of so many people in so small a place, all polite and thoughtful in how they interact.
Despite all that, the best bits of Tokyo are the little pockets of tranquillity. It’s amazing to walk into a park or garden and after only a few metres feel the rush and the noise of Tokyo drift away into the background.
Often you can still see the buildings all around you, towering over the treetops, but the distant traffic is softened almost into melody. A slow walk along a stream or around a moat, and you could be in the furthest reaches of the countryside rather than the depths of the world’s biggest megacity.
One of the ultimate examples of this, and one of the absolute bucket list places to visit in Tokyo, was the Imperial Palace. The phenomenal palace itself is surrounded by wonderful grounds and an impressive moat. Joggers passed me, doing circuits of the palisades. Tourists were numerous, but respectful. Any noise or commotion they might have made was swallowed up by the enormity.
The Palace is rich with history. The main building itself is relatively new, built only in recent centuries since the Emperor’s brief restoration to true de facto power. The location and grounds, and some of the enormous walls and gates, have stood for centuries, since being occupied by the Shogun of old.
Walking through an enormous stone gate and up the vast steps, it was impossible not to feel the weight of history. All the samurai and their lords, the Daimyo and Shogun, the Emperors, the poets and painters, warriors and priests, who had walked through the same gates and up the same steps over centuries of Japanese history. I could feel myself walking in their footsteps.
Surrounded by ancient and beautiful architecture, isolated from the noise and the lights, I was truly transported back in time. The modernity of Tokyo outside did nothing to diminish the sense of history from being in this place.
Beyond the Palace and moat, the nearby National Museum of Modern Art made for a great afternoon, whereas the science museum I stumbled upon turned out to be clearly designed for schoolchildren.
I left the quiet, historic grounds and returned to the reality of modern Tokyo. There’s still much to see and do there; I’m excited to walk among the hip young things of Shinjuku and Shibuya, to play some mad arcade games back in Akihabara. Nonetheless, these brief sojourns into the spiritual remnants of old Japan have made me excited for the coming weeks and months, when my adventures take me beyond Tokyo and into the wide world beyond.