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Beneath the bright lights, Japan’s capital is an endless trove of cultural treasures.
  Tokyo is a city of impossible contrasts. An endless labyrinth of skyscrapers, bordered by mountain and sea; a neon, retrofuturist dream throttling past pockets of serenity scattered with historic castles, temples and parks. One of the world’s most populous cities, it is understandably among the hardest to truly penetrate. It is Japan at its least nuanced, a window dressing of stereotype, cloaked precariously over an incredibly rich culture, largely unknown to those beyond its bounds. 
  Among the city’s best-known wards is Shinjuku; a microcosm of the city itself, home to its largest railway station, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Nestled within its claustrophobic streets is Kabukicho, Japan’s grittiest and seediest neighbourhoods though, tellingly, oft-called one of Asia’s ‘safest red-light districts’.
  Marked by large, red gates, it is a surreal cluster of bars, eateries and restaurants, drenched in artificial light most notably the Robot Restaurant, where food takes a back seat to spectacle. One of the world’s most unmissable shows, Robot Restaurant is a celebration of Japanese stereotype turned up all the way to 11. A feast for the senses does not even begin to explain this bizarre, explosive battle between robot and dancer.
  The adjacent area of Golden Gai presents a rare example of older Tokyo architecture, surviving both natural disasters and war. Engulfed on all sides by looming skyscrapers, it is a time capsule, filled with numerous tiny bars, frequented by the city’s actors, artists and musicians looking for a peaceful escape from the metropolis beyond. Offering an even quieter break is Shinjuku Gyoen, a stunning park with three main gardens. The first, in traditional Japanese style, features 1,500 cherry trees, two ponds joined by a small river, and a pavilion built to commemorate the royal wedding of Emperor Hirohito. Elsewhere, a French garden mimics the splendour of Versailles with roses aplenty, while an English garden brings a touch of British charm to the Japanese archipelago. A curious greenhouse also boasts a tropical cocktail of flowers and plants.
  The adjacent ward of Shibuya is home to the infamous Shibuya Crossing, an intersection outside the station where, at the turn of a light, seas of people flood across the road, heading towards homes, offices and shops. The area hosts an array of department stores, housed in skyscrapers with floors of restaurants. Shibuya is also considered to be a major driving force behind the country’s fashion industry, with many new trends starting here.  
  Nowhere is this clearer than in Harajuku, an area made famous for its namesake ‘Harajuku style’ a wacky hotchpotch of punk, cosplay, kawaii cute, bold colour and all things over-thetop. Beyond a thicket of trees, the spectacular Shinto shrine of Meiji-Jingu is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, whose ascendance stripped power away from the samurai class and thrust Japan into an era of modernisation.
  One of Shibuya’s more curious landmarks is Love Hotel Hill, where you’ll find the capital’s highest concentration of love hotels frequented by couples who don’t have anywhere else to spend time alone.
  To the east is Tokyo’s centre of ultraluxe chic, Ginza. Formerly a silver coin mint, the area was rebuilt after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Today it houses some of the city’s most prestigious brands and malls. Topped by an iconic clock tower, Seiko’s Wako building survived the intense firebombing of World War II, an architectural legacy that is today full of designer brands, a delectable tea salon and an art gallery. The ultramodern Tokyu Plaza, meanwhile, offers a bold contrast, with a kaleidoscopic entranceway symbolising the country’s world-class contemporary design.
  A very different shopping experience can be had in Akihabara, a nexus of all things anime. Manga cafes sit alongside shops, overflowing with anime and video-game figurines, alongside electronic shops hawking retro Famicoms and assorted gadgets. Akihabara’s 1,300-year-old Kanda-jinja Shinto shrine was famously where the notable rebel Taira no Masakado was enshrined in 940 and deified. Today, it is also represented by the mascot Nozomi Tojo, a shrine maiden from the anime Love Live!. 
  The nearby Ueno Park, originally part of the powerful Kaneiji Temple and one of Japan’s earliest Western-style parks, features a long corridor of 1,000 cherry trees prime hanami, or‘cherry blossom viewing’, territory. The park’s lotus-covered Shinobazu Pond, boasting an octagonal temple hall, is inspired by Lake Biwa beneath the Kyoto temple that Kaneiji modelled itself after. Ueno also hosts an array of museums, including Tokyo National Museum and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, as well as Ueno Zoo the country’s first.
  In Sumida to the east, a bizarre, huge building rises as if on stilts. This modern behemoth, fashioned after a traditional storehouse, is home to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a fascinating journey through the 400-year history of Japan’s capital. The atmospheric museum offers insight into the development of the city, formerly known as Edo, and the lives of those who inhabited it examining Japanese architecture and the nation’s cultural heritage.
  The nearby (ironically small) Sumo Museum makes for a smooth introduction to the sport, which can be enjoyed at the Ryogoku sumo stadium, with a hearty helping of katsu curry and a dizzying drink of Chuhai. Tournaments are held during certain points of the year, and each day wrestlers do their best to throw their opponents to the ground, or push them out of the ring. By the end of the day, the atmosphere is electric, as pairs of Yokozuna duel to a cacophony of shrieking fans and camera flashes.  
  In the 17th century, sumo tournaments were held in the district of Asakusa, just to the north then, the centre of entertainment and kabuki. Sensoji Temple is among the city’s oldest and most magnificent Buddhist temples. It is preceded by the 200-metre (656-foot) shopping street, Nakamise, where vendors sell souvenirs and distinctive treats, such as amezaiku elaborate, hand-crafted lollipops.
  Just across the Sumida River is Tokyo Skytree, the world’s second-tallest structure at 634 metres (2,080 feet). With two observation decks at 350 metres (1,148 feet) and 450 metres (1,476 feet), it makes for a stunning place to take in the city from up high. From here, Tokyo stretches out towards the horizon, a neverending expanse of light and life.
  Japanese culture varies greatly from region to region, but the capital of Tokyo is a brilliant gateway to some of the country’s most beloved artistic heritage. 
  Among Japan’s most recognisable forms of theatre is Kabuki, which originated during the Edo period, beginning in 1603. Performers don elaborate costumes and makeup, acting out historical dramas on intricate stages, with trapdoors and revolving platforms.  
  Bunraku theatre, meanwhile, sees a narrator tell a story, accompanied by a shamisen, acted out by puppets. The puppeteers, dressed all in black, animate not just the puppets’ limbs, but facial expressions too requiring a great deal of training and expertise.  
  Music is also central to Noh theatre, which was developed by 14th-century actor Kan’ami Kiyotsugu and his son Zeami. It is a minimalist, slow and ponderous reflection of themes, narrated by masked performers, often representing supernatural beings.