Tokyo: a metropolis divided between ancient religions and hectic modernity

My first trip to Japan began in Tokyo, a metropolis of over 13 million inhabitants that after the bombing of the Second World War was rebuilt by investing in an innovative metropolitan railway system and a special focus on seismic risk. It is by far a city where modernity, tradition and religion blend naturally and are shared by all generations. In the streets you can meet families dressed in traditional kimonos, businessmen in suits and school children in uniform. The two main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism, coexist in a harmonious and respectful manner both in the daily life of people and in places of worship. Thousands of people move continuously respecting timetables and queues in an almost maniacal way (really in Japan you have to queue for anything, even to take a picture with a dog! But I’ll talk about that later).

Tokyo Imperial Palace

My visit to the city starts from the Chiyoda district where the Imperial Palace is located, unfortunately not very visible and not accessible to the public. I read that the palace’s interior gardens can only be visited twice a year, on January 2nd and on the birthday of the Emperor Naruhito, who ascended the throne on 1st May 2019 after his father’s abdication. The Palace is surrounded by perimeter walls and a moat that is still original while the piers have been redone in stone and iron. Fortunately I photographed the changing of the guard that happens at times that are not made public.

Meiji Shrine

Now I’m curious to visit the most important religious places of the city. Near the Harajuku station there is Meiji Jingu shrine, considered one of the most important Shinto temples in Japan and dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. This emperor played a fundamental role in the history of Japan, moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and indicated Shintoism as the main religion. To reach the temple you must pass under a giant wooden Torii and take a road through a forest of over one hundred thousand trees donated by the Japanese people to honor the memory of their Emperor. The cult of Shintoism foresees that the faithful before entering the temple must perform the ritual of purification which consists in washing hands and mouth in the sacred source. Afterwards they can pray in front of the prayer hall following a pattern: if there is a bell they ring it twice by pulling the long string, then they bow twice, clap their hands twice, turn their prayer to the divinity and then repeat the two bows. Eventually they drop a few coins in the cracks in the box and hang a piece of paper or a wooden tablet with their prayers and wishes on the large camphor trees that are located around the sanctuary.

Senso-ji Buddhist Temple

To understand the other religious choice of the Japanese I decided to visit the Senso-ji Buddhist temple dedicated to the goddess Kannon in the Asakusa district. To reach the temple you have to pass under the Thunder Gate where there is the largest paper lantern in Japan. I walked the crowded street of people and shops to the entrance of the temple that consists of a pavilion divided into two areas. Near the pavilion there is a really beautiful and very suggestive five-story pagoda and many cherry blossom trees. There is also a brazier where the faithfuls light incense sticks, put them on the sand and carry the smoke towards them because it is thought to remove physical pain. We tourists too repeat this ritual even if it does not belong to our culture, hoping it will work.

Shibuya district

Now I want to discover the other side of cosmopolitan Tokyo, that side turned to consumerism and all the exaggeration. I then moved to the Shibuya district where there is the famous Shibuya Crossing, considered the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. At the click of the traffic lights a flood of teenagers in fashionable clothes, commuters with the inevitable mask and many curious tourists cross the intersection in absolute safety. The show is unique and irresistible. I try to find the best angle to take some pictures or make a movie, but getting across the street excites me more. Near the Shibuya station there is the statue of the dog Hachiko, famous for his extreme loyalty to his master. Surely it is the most photographed dog in the world given the queue of tourists for a photo or selfie.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

It starts to get dark, even though from the countless number of neon signs in Tokyo it is hard to see that it has fallen the evening. I decided to move to the Shinjuku district to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where, at 202 meters high, there is a great free panoramic point from which you can enjoy a 360° view of the whole city. From this height it is possible to admire the city at night with its illuminated skyscrapers, symbol of a city that never stops.


Photography Tips: To take pictures at night it is necessary to use long exposure times. The exposure time is the time during which the shutter of the camera remains open to allow light to reach the film or sensor and thus to create the photo. Using longer times allows more light to enter, but there is also a greater chance that the photo will be blurred. For this reason you have to use a tripod for stabilizing your camera or strive to find solid support when, as in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, you are not allowed to use a tripod for safety reasons. To decide the exposure time you must use the manual mode (M) or the timing priority mode (P) that you find on the shooting mode dial.

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