POSTED: July 14th 2013

Sports Tourism: Finding History in Futuristic Tokyo

The Imperial Palace and gardens home to the Japanese Emperor / Nattou
The Imperial Palace and gardens home to the Japanese Emperor / Nattou

Tim Leffel has written travel books, business books, articles for travel publications and is the editor of Perceptive Travel / Tim Leffel image
Tim Leffel has written travel books, business books, articles for travel publications and is the editor of Perceptive Travel / Tim Leffel image

TIM LEFFEL / Sports Features Communications

(SFC) When it comes to fashion, trends, and electronic gadgets, Tokyo is often ahead of the rest of the world. The gleaming skyscrapers, towers, and lights give Japan’s capital a futuristic sheen. This is a city with a few centuries of history, however. Before 1868 it even had a different name: Edo.

Should Tokyo get the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nod to host the 2020 summer Games there will be plenty of cultural things to see in the city. Tokyo is bidding against Madrid and Istanbul to host the Olympics.

Shrines and buildings from long before the electric light are often nestled in parks and quiet places away from the bustle. Here are a few notable places that will take you back to an earlier era.

The Imperial Palace

Chiyoda ward, Eidan Subway Takebashi station or Otemachi station

The home of the Japanese Emperor was the Shogun’s castle before that, but since it was bombed during WWII, much of what you see as a visitor is not original: it was rebuilt in the traditional style. Some portions of the past remain, however, especially in the easy-to-visit East Gardens. Here you find the original foundation of the castle tower, plus moats, walls, entrance gates and several guardhouses. Naturally there’s an impeccably maintained Japanese garden.

To get insight into the history of the city, from the 1500s to the modern age, take a guided tour of the palace. You can see a model of what Edo looked like in its early days.
Toshogu Shrine

Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Ueno station

This is one of the few shrines in the city that managed to escape all the calamities that wiped out many others: the civil war of 1868, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and World War II. It is dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate and the man who made this city the capital.

The inside, unfortunately, is under renovation until 2014, so you’ll have to visit after that to see the artwork, murals, and samurai armor. Until then you can view the exterior, wander the gardens, and see the large stone lanterns along the entrance pathway.

Rikugi-en Garden

Bunkyo ward, JR Komagome station

This garden is considered to be one of Tokyo’s most beautiful places for a walk and it dates back to the early 18th century. It was built for one of the shoguns and reproduces 88 scenes from history and Japanese poems. Several teahouses on the pond’s northwestern shore are good places for quiet conversation and relaxation after a long walk.


30 minutes NW from Tokyo by express train, or 43 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku

This is as close as you can get to the feel of Japan’s real historic capital, Kyoto, without traveling halfway down the country. If you take the Tobu Tojo Express train from Central Tokyo, around a half hour later you’ll step back in time to buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

For the oldest structure, find the Toke no Kane bell tower, ringing since the 1600s. Nearby are former warehouses that now house traditional Japanese restaurants. Save some room for sweets and stroll the candy shops from the 1800s along Kashiya Yokosho, a narrow lane paved in stone where you can see people still making hard candy.

Further afield, there was a castle built here in 1457, but now there’s just a building containing residences and offices from the mid 1800s. You can explore inside to see how the nobles lived and worked then. For more info see

Tim Leffel is editor of Perceptive Travel and the author of four travel books. See more at

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