Published December 7, 2023
Japan has a proclivity for showing visitors that it’s a nation of forward thinkers. Hi-tech gadgets and convenience innovations bolster an enduring cultural phenomenon of visual storytelling, be it hand-drawn, animated or filmed. But peer beyond that technological sheen and you’ll find this is a society that is also unafraid to look back, respecting traditional values, somehow seamlessly blending them into modern life. Nowhere is this duality better demonstrated than across the region of Greater Tokyo, where it infused the country’s hosting of the post-pandemic Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games with much needed optimism and a future-facing attitude. As you move through Greater Tokyo, you’ll find that the legacy of Tokyo 2020 connects you to these regions, beautifully embodying the spirit of Japan, both then and now.
As the centerpiece of Tokyo’s Olympic and Paralympic facilities, the Japan National Stadium is emblematic of legacy. Its wooden eaves blend both modern and traditional architectural techniques, symbolically using Ryukyu-pine from Okinawa and cedarwood from each of Japan’s other 46 prefectures, while explorative tours let visitors experience what it might have been like to be an athlete competing in the games. Just outside of the stadium lies the iconic Olympic “cauldron,” created by designer Oki Sato to represent a flower blooming in the sun.
Once you’ve experienced this most recent ode to Japan’s legacy, it’s only a short trip back into metropolitan hustle and bustle, particularly the Ginza district, where Tokyo’s more contemporary offerings include high-end shopping and special dining experiences. Among them is the MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza restaurant, where a small seating of eight diners can enjoy a multisensory experience of dishes crafted from seasonal Japanese produce, bathed in interactive digital art (created by Tokyo-based international art collective teamLab) that represents the passing seasons.
Less than an hour’s train ride from Tokyo city, Saitama’s urban communities sit in the landscape with beautifully preserved temples, along with another Olympic legacy. Hosting the men’s and women’s Basketball events during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Saitama Super Arena is a striking hallmark of Japanese futurism, utilizing similar mechanisms to those used to move space rocket launch pads. In keeping with its adaptive, future-ready concept, this tech allows the building to change size to accommodate different events, becoming a 22,500-seat arena or a 37,000-seat stadium.
Outside of the techno-futuristic wonder of the Super Arena, Saitama’s historic past is nearby and far from being left behind. Less than half an hour from the Super Arena, the Koedo Kawagoe (Little Edo) district lets you experience what life was like in Japan over a century ago. Kurazukuri Street in particular is lined with merchant storehouses retained from the area’s zenith as a major commercial town during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Reflecting their owners’ wealth from supplying Edo (modern day Tokyo) with fine furniture and other resources, the clay-walled buildings are a perfect preservation of the embellished Kurazukuri architectural style. You can step even further back in time at nearby Kawagoe Hikawa-jinja Shrine, where you can invoke good fortune in marriage and family from the shrine’s deities, who are themselves married to one another. The red theme of love runs through into colored pencil charms, from which the line drawn symbolizes the “string of fate” from a Japanese legend—joining you to your destined significant other so you may one day find them.
Out on Chiba prefecture’s Kujukuri coast, Tsurigasaki Beach has long been a surfing hotspot, with around 600,000 enthusiasts arriving to ride the waves each year. In 2020, Tsurigasaki hosted the first ever Olympic surfing event, and it’s still selected regularly for national and international competitions. The nearby surfer town of Ichinomiya has its own legacy of raising world-class surfers, along with a local scene of relaxed cafes and stylish shops where you can equip yourself for lessons with rented surf boards and wetsuits.
Rising above the elemental power of the sea are Chiba’s impressive mountains. The slopes of Mt. Nokogiri are criss-crossed with hiking trails that lead to rewards of incredible natural vistas and ancient Buddhist monuments. A hike to the coastal side of the mountain offers up views of the Boso Peninsula as you stand atop the jagged “sawtooth” ridgeline that gives Nokogiri its name—created toward the end of the Edo Period, when stone slabs were sharply cut away to satisfy large, modernizing construction projects around Tokyo Bay. Guided hiking tours are also available, and a “ropeway” cable car grants access to shorter trails around Nihon-ji Temple, where you’ll be greeted by a 100-foot-tall (31 meters) stone Buddha called Daibutsu (literally Big Buddha) about half-way up the mountain.
Home to some very popular day-trips from Tokyo—including Kamakura for beaches and coastal treks, and Hakone for natural hot springs—Kanagawa prefecture is known for its connection to water. Its Olympic legacy harks back to the first time Japan hosted the Summer Games in 1964, when the Enoshima Yacht Harbor was built to accommodate the country’s first ever water sport competitions. Since then, the harbor has returned to purpose for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while also contributing to the increasing popularity of sailing across Japan in the intervening years.
Although it’s easy to return to Tokyo from a day trip to Kanagawa, it’s a lovely change of pace to wake up in the serenity of the countryside. The self-styled Kishi-ke Modern Ryokan is a guesthouse that perfectly embodies the Japanese quality of blending traditional and new. Built using the remains of the owner’s Samurai family home, Kishi-ke incorporates modern stylings into the clean, minimalist simplicity synonymous with traditional ryokans. The washitsu area—the “heart of the ryokan”—is where you can spend time enjoying the adjacent garden, or immersing yourself in cultural history through experiences like vegetarian cookery, sweet making, and even kintsugi (repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold), along with Japan’s well-known and highly significant tea ceremony.
On a clear day in Tokyo, you can see Mount Fuji, but it’s better to appreciate this iconic mountain in the landscape where it stands proud. Yamanashi prefecture is known for its mountains, water, and wine, affording views best absorbed slowly and serenely, which is why the region is known for its cycling routes. Lake Yamanaka is the largest of the “Fuji Five Lakes” located at the base of the mountain, boasting views so iconic that its cycling route was chosen for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycling race—a course that encompasses both reasonably flat, meandering roads and more challenging climbs.
Drinking in amazing views can be thirsty work, so it’s fortunate that Yamanashi is also Japan’s premier wine making region. The prefecture has been producing wine for around 150 years, an intriguing part of Japanese culture illuminated by wineries like Château Mercian—which has been producing wines for just five years short of that total history. Here you can learn about the white wine made from Koshu, a native Japanese grape, and enjoy a selection of pre-booked English language tours of vineyards and barrel-lined cellars. But for those keen to swirl and sip, wine tastings and food parings are available sans tour.
Should you manage a complete trip around Greater Tokyo, or even part of it, it’s clear to see how this region of Japan encapsulates legacy so well—a deep felt respect for tradition as a lens through which to peer at the future. It’s a region that truly captures the spirit of Japan then, now, and beyond.
>>> Read full article>>>
Copyright for syndicated content belongs to the linked Source : National Geographic – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/paid-content-greater-tokyo-then-and-now