Tokyo: a metropolis divided between ancient religions and hectic modernity

My first trip to Japan starts in Tokyo, a metropolis of over 13 million inhabitants completely rebuilt after the bombings of the Second World War. The modern Tokyo has a state-of-the-art railway and metropolitan system. Skyscrapers are built with special attention to seismic risk. The two main religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, coexist in a harmonious and respectful manner both in the daily life of the faithful and in places of worship. 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 whole school children in uniform. Thousands of people move continuously respecting the hours in an almost maniacal way, even long queues are ordered. Really in Japan you have to stand in line for anything, even for taking a picture with a dog! But I’ll talk about this later.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

I begin my visit of the city from the district of Chiyoda 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 May 1, 2019 after his father’s abdication.

The ancient palace is surrounded by perimeter walls and a moat that is still original while the piers were rebuilt in stone and iron. Fortunately I can photograph the traditional 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 is the Meiji shrine, considered one of the most important Shinto temples in Japan and dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. The emperor Meiji 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 Shinto religion provides that the faithful before entering the temple must carry out the purification rite which consists in washing hands and mouth in a source. Afterwards they can pray in front of the prayer hall following a precise pattern. If a bell is present they ring it twice by pulling the long string, then they do two bows, 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 found around the sanctuary.

Senso-ji Buddhist Temple

To understand the second most widespread religion in Japan I decide to visit the Senso-ji Buddhist temple dedicated to the goddess Kannon who is in the Asakusa district. For entering into the temple you have to pass under the Thunder Gate where the largest paper lantern in Japan is located.

I walk the crowded street of people and shops to the entrance of the temple consisting of a pavilion divided into two areas. Near the pavilion there is a really beautiful and very suggestive five-story pagoda due to the presence of many cherry blossom trees. There is also a brazier where the faithful 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 of consumerism and modernity. I then move to the Shibuya district where the famous Shibuya Crossing intersection is found, considered the busiest in the world. At the start of the traffic lights, a flood of young, fashionable clothes, commuters with the inevitable mask and lots of 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 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 to take a photo or a 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 in the evening. I decide to move to the Shinjuku district to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a modern building housing the Tokyo metropolitan government. In addition to numerous offices here, at 202 meters high, there is an excellent free panoramic point from which you can enjoy a 360 ° view of the whole city. From this height it is possible to admire the entire Tokyo with its illuminated skyscrapers that represent the symbol of a city that never stops.

Photography tip: To take pictures at night you need 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 create the photo. Using longer times allows more light to enter, but there is also a greater chance that the photo will be moved. So you need to use a tripod or strive to find solid support for your camera when, as in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, you are not allowed to carry a tripod for security reasons.

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