Nestled in the eponymous bay, Tokyo is a sprawling megalopolis at the center of the world's most populous urban area. Seen from the air, it appears to stretch to the center of Honshu, the main island. And yet, as you run through this immense concrete labyrinth, you'll discover linear business districts and winding alleys. Shinto temples and maid cafés, sumptuous parks and skyscrapers...
"Tokyo operates at two speeds. On one side, immense arteries, concrete bridges, human tides. On the other, tiny neighborhoods, dark alleys flanked by blind facades and floating banners."
This quote from Jean-Christophe Grangé's Kaïken sums up the atmosphere of the Japanese capital.
On the one hand, there are several business districts, with wide sidewalks that allow you to run for miles outside office hours.
On the other hand, in the heart of modern Shinjuku, encircled by skyscrapers, lies the Golden Gai. A tiny district flanked by a temple, it's made up of small, two-storey buildings, often dilapidated and stuck together. This mecca of Tokyo nightlife, packed with tiny bars, is one of the few remnants of the city's pre-World War II architecture, after which the city's layout was completely redesigned.
Asakusa, between tradition and mass tourism
Northeast of Tokyo lies the Asakusa district, famous for its Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji. Dedicated to the gods of wind and thunder, Fujin and Raijin, you'll often come across Japanese in traditional costume. Packed with handicraft stalls selling kimonos, kitchen utensils and fake wax food, the district is popular with tourists despite its out-of-the-way location.
Asakusa is also home to a score of geishas, whom you may come across on your run. If you run for a few minutes, you'll soon reach the Skytree tower. At 634 meters high, this broadcasting tower can be visited, and offers travelers two observation platforms. However, this vertical journey is not free, and on the other side of town, in Shinjuku, you'll find an equivalent (and free!) panorama at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building.
Akihabara, the electric city
Every otaku - a japanophile version of geek - must visit Akihabara, nicknamed "the electric city". In the center, near the train station, you'll find a huge shopping mall featuring all the big names in Japanese electronics. However, its success lies in the fact that hundreds of tiny, ultra-specialized stores surround it.
As you walk along the streets, look out for the vertical signs: they tell you which floor a particular product is on.
The atmosphere is just as electric. The arcades play blaring J-Pop, countless neon lights flash, while the maids in the surrounding cafés harpoon the many passers-by. Running through these streets is an extraordinary experience.
The Meiji Jingu, between Shibuya and Shinjuku
Between Shibuya, the shopping district where young Japanese women flock, and Shinjuku, the business district covered with iconic skyscrapers, lies Yoyogi Park. A veritable urban forest, it hides a vast sanctuary, the Meiji-jingu.
Compared to the red-and-gold Asakusa temple, the Meiji-jingu is an ode to Japanese sobriety. Its portals (torii) are devoid of decoration, with the exception of three gold cabochons on the main beam. The rest of the temple, made of dark wood, contrasts with the green roofs and surrounding trees.
On a stroll in the west of the city, you can leave the hustle and bustle of Shibuya Crossing and head into Yoyogi Park, with the feeling of stepping into a Studio Ghibli film.
From here, after performing ritual ablutions in the ancient pool at the entrance to the temple, for example, plunge back into the bustling streets of Shinjuku, before reaching the eponymous park, famous for its tropical greenhouses.
Pandas, palaces and gardens of Ueno
When they hear the name Ueno, many adopted Tokyoites think "pandas". In fact, even if you decide to avoid the endless queue outside their enclosure, you can't escape the omnipresence of these two-tone ursids. Every store within a kilometer of the zoo, from a bakery to a clothing store, carries products bearing their likeness! Ueno Zoo is also home to a number of more local species, such as the Hokkaido grizzly bear. If you decide to run around the zoo itself, there are almost invisible windows into the enclosures, and you could come face to face with this gigantic bear (weighing several hundred kilos!) at the bend in an alleyway.
If you walk down the alley leading to the Tōshō-gū shrine, you'll find a stone memorial with a flame burning permanently in memory of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombings.
The Imperial Palace is just around the corner. Surrounded by a moat, you'll come across many runners on your morning jog.
Street workout apparatus, very common in Tokyo's green spaces, will also probably be occupied by athletes of all ages.
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