Calm Amongst the Chaos – Exploring Tokyo in 2017
What are we to do with so much sushi, yet so little time? Tokyo’s hectic buzz can sometimes leave us feeling exhausted, so how do we find the perfect combination of tranquility and excitement in the middle of the world’s most populated city? Well, since Japanese culture focuses a lot on honor and our connection to nature, taking a breather isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Despite the hustle and bustle of city life, there are secret coves of quiet solitude nestled all over the city and if you take the time to look, (you’ll keep your sanity!) and discover some pretty spectacular wonders.
Take Time to Smell the Flowers
Japan boasts some truly incredible flora, especially in the spring. Anyone who decides to visit in April or May is going to be blessed with some amazing scenery and may even catch the Wisteria Festival at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine. The area blooms incredible lavender colored flowers and has its own reflective pool, making it a prime spot to reground after competing for tuna at Tsukiji fish market or browsing hectic Harajuku for Hello Kitty memorabilia. If flowers aren’t exactly your cup of tea, Yoyogi Park is another great place to take a Tokyo time-out. It’s one of the city’s biggest parks and in the fall has a gingko tree forest which changes to beautiful reds and oranges, but the coolest part of the park is probably the Meiji Shrine. It’s a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. In front of the main temple, there is a wall filled with wooden tablets or Ema showcasing the hopes, prayers and kind words of Japanese and non-Japanese guests alike. When you visit, you get to have one and write down your wish, leaving it on the hooks for future visitors, or take it home with you.
See a Geisha Performance
The opportunity to have dinner with a Geisha and experience some of their elegant dance and hospitality is a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Although Kyoto traditionally boasted the most numerous and famous of all Geisha, Tokyo (Shimbashi) is still home to some of these wonderful performers. Geisha are trained in traditional arts, their primary instrument being the shamisen, which is a three-stringed instrument that plays delicate and beautiful music, not unlike running water, depending on how fast or slow it’s played. It’s a nice way to have a relaxing evening, but be careful because they will also engage you in parlor games and probably beat you!
Find A Traditional Hotel
Okay, so these are really neat and a great way to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the city. Ryokan is a traditional inn which accommodated travelers along Japan’s highways but are now visited more frequently by tourists. They can be pricey, although some can be booked for around 100-150$ per night and totally worth it. What makes them unique is that they feature a tatami, which is a mat used as flooring, traditional sliding doors, and offer onsen (hot springs!) The best part of the ofuro is that you get to snuggle into a cozy yukata (casual kimono) before or after soaking. Your room typically offers tea and you’ll have the option of breakfast and dinner with them eating traditional Japanese cuisine, Kaiseki. They’re a great way to experience a taste of relaxing, authentic Japanese culture in one or two nights and something to consider when deciding how to plan your Tokyo itinerary.
Visit A Temple for Tea
Some Japanese temples offer tea ceremonies (typically green matcha) that you can attend as a way to break up your day and enjoy some peace and quiet. Most temples have beautiful, ornate flower and bamboo gardens surrounding them so you can enjoy the fresh air and lush greenery while listening to the sounds of fountains (sozu). Kamakura, in particular, was home to many samurai and followers of Buddhism, which is why it’s still so full of amazing temples today. Some even offer snacks or a treat to enjoy along the way, and fortunately, Kamakura has many temples to choose from.
Although Tokyo sometimes gets the label of being a chaotic city, it still remains one of the major hubs of traditional Japanese culture, as long as you know where to look. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore the city’s animated and awakened personality and remember that even a few minutes of peaceful relaxation are only a few moments away. Sayonara!