Japan in Focus
By Georgia Shipley
24 October 2019
With the Japanese Rugby World Cup and Joanna Lumley bursting onto our television screens recently, we’ve been lapping up all things Japan.Read more
Effortlessly blending the old and the new, Tokyo is a city that defies definition. Cutting edge technology sits alongside ancient temples, flashing neon lights, and shining skyscrapers towering above stunning Shinto shrines. Tokyo is one of the world's leading economic centres, and with its population of almost 13 million people, is the most populous city on the planet. Tokyo only became Japan's capital in 1868. Before then it was a small settlement known as Edo, but with the restoration of Imperial rule, the city became the showpiece of a rapidly modernising country.
In the first half of the 20th century, Tokyo suffered two major setbacks. The catastrophic Kanto Earthquake of 1923 - and the resulting fires - claimed the lives of 140,000 people, made almost 2 million homeless and virtually levelled the city. Furthermore, it again suffered major destruction during the Second World War after being bombed by US forces. But the city rose from the ashes of all of this to become a major economic force, and though much of Tokyo consists of relatively new buildings, it still retains a selection of wonderful historic structures.
One such structure is the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon - otherwise known as the goddess of mercy. According to legend, a golden image of Kannon was rescued from the nearby Sumida River by two fishermen in 627 AD. The temple was first built in 645 and has been home to the golden image ever since - though it is not currently on display. Today's elaborate complex dates from 1727, and stands on the site of the very first building.
As well as ancient shrines and modern buildings, Tokyo also boasts some great shopping districts and fantastic markets. These include Ameyoko, a busy shopping street dominated by small market-style stalls selling a wide variety of wares. Ameyoko runs parallel to the railway lines, and includes a large market under the railway tracks. This bustling area reveals another facet of the city, and is great to discover.