Exploring Central Tokyo
Although its vast interior is largely invisible to the eye, the area that spirals out from the Imperial Palace grounds and its circumnavigating moats, is the closest the city has to a center. Home to a single family, far bigger than Buckingham Palace, it occupies 110 ha (270 acres) of what was once Edo Castle, the authorial core of the historical city. The French critic and semiotician, Roland Barthes, famously called this empty center the “sacred nothing.” When the castle was finally completed, the outer defensive perimeter measured a staggering 16 km (10 miles), the inner perimeter 6.4 km (4 miles). Art Aquarium, an annual Nihonbashi event, features thousands of goldfish. Futuristic car designs today at Ginza’s Nissan Crossing. It was the largest fortress in the world, though few people in Europe or the Middle East would have known that fact.
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The concentration of power, a centrality that confers wealth and prestige, is manifest in the nearby Kasumigaseki, home to the Diet Building and a number of government ministries, the business districts of Nihonbashi and Marunouchi, Tokyo Station, the capital’s premier transportation hub, and a number of high-end department stores and shopping districts. These components of power and affluence might be understood as legacies of the original, rigorously managed city center, where authority radiated from Edo Castle and the elite social and political structures it supported. The soaring towers of Tokyo Midtown Hibiya Complex, a creatively designed shopping center. A guardian, one of a pair, at the entrance to Kanda Myojin Shrine.
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An image from London’s “swinging sixties,” parked in a Kagurazaka back Street. Illuminated with paper lanterns, the impressive entrance gate to Kanda Myojin Shrine. Grilling ise-ebi, a prized lobster, in Tsukiji Outer Market. Fee Free access. Part of the extensive Imperial Palace East Garden grounds, the Ninomaru Garden is attributed to the landscape designer and tea master, Enshu Kobori. The essence of Enshu’s style is often described as kirei sabi, denoting simplicity and gracefulness. Although he only created a handful of gardens in his life, the harmonic mastery of land and water here suggest that even if Enshu was not directly involved, his garden principals were closely heeded.
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Created in the style of the early 17th-century stroll garden, it was restored in 1968 using the original design sketches. Liberally planted with azalea, wisteria, and towering zelkova trees on its fringes, a small but dazzling field of irises come into blossom in early June, bush clover and camellia in the autumn. Recently, many of these blossoming dates have been accelerated by the effects of climate change and Tokyo’s rising heat island temperatures. A pond, with cow and pygmy water lilies, Japanese seedbox, and a rare water plant known as floating heart, cool down the air during the fetid summer months. Ninomaru Grove provides further relief from the heat, its earth paths passing under sawtooth and konara oak, arrowwood, maple and wax tree, a wonderland for birds. A tight grouping of waterfall and accompanying rocks in a green recess of the garden. A woman in kimono pauses to admire the garden’s resplendent irises. The angle of these stepping stones adds depth and perspective to the pond section of the garden. A three-legged, snow viewing lantern dominates this corner of the garden.
TOKYO STATION & TOKYO CHARACTER STREET
Location 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. Character Street Access Yaesu Underground North Exit. Hours 10.00 a.m.-8.30 p.m. Tokyo Station, fully functional by 1914, is one of the last red brick Queen Anne-style buildings left in Marunouchi, a district once known as London Block. The work of prominent architect, Tatsuno Kingo, the station remains an important gateway to the city. Modeled after Central Station in the Netherlands, renovation on its upper structures and cupolas, lost in the B-29 air raids of 1945, was completed a few years ago. In stark contrast to early 20th-century design tastes are the station’s modern subterranean passageways.
Conduits for passengers in a hurry, Tokyo Character Street is one place where young people and the curious come to linger and shop. Occupying two or three lanes beneath the Yaesu north side of the station, the cluster of Japanese anime, manga, and TV character shops adds a dash of color and brio to the predictable cafes and restaurants found here. Over 20 shops highlight popular character goods, ranging from Pokemon to Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Doraemon, Crayon Shin Chan, and Sailor Moon. Fans of the pioneering anime workshop Studio Ghibli won’t want to miss its shop, Donguri Republic, which showcases souvenir items and collectibles from the popular animations Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Dragon BalI, and many more.