Huong Le

Tokyo, one of the world’s most advanced cities, maintains a deep tranquility at its heart.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of the best places in Tokyo to see cherry blossoms

Tokyo is known as one of the world’s busiest and most dynamic metropolises, crowded with neon-lit streets, department stores, office towers and hordes of bustling pedestrians. While it attracts millions of visitors each year for its cutting-edge modernity, it is also a city of quiet spaces and tranquility. This calm coexisting with urban intensity helped prompt Monocle Magazine to name Tokyo the world’s most livable city in 2016.

Tokyo never sleeps

Of course, it is the vibrancy of Tokyo that makes the first impression for most visitors. You can find anything you need at any time of day or night at in the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), while busy train stations such as Shibuya, Tokyo or Shinagawa are a sea of humanity at rush hours with subways and commuter trains packed almost impossibly tightly. Shibuya Crossing, near the iconic statue of the faithful dog Hachiko, is one of the most famous places to take in the somehow orderly chaos of a packed Tokyo street.  It almost seems that just stepping into the whirlwind of motion will totally sweep away an unwary visitor. The neighborhood also attracts young urbanites thanks to its boutiques, shops and restaurants

Hotspots of dynamic Tokyo include Roppongi with its bars, pubs and restaurants, the high-end shopping districts of Ginza and Omotesando and the haven of electronic goods, Akihabara. Other popular haunts include the youthful fashion district of Harajuku and the buzzing neon vibe of Shinjuku.

Rikugien Park in Tokyo

Tokyo’s quiet side

 However, Tokyo manages to also set apart oases of tranquility. Parks and green spaces abound in the dense urban landscape, such as Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine, Ueno Park, Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden and Showakinen Park. City planners adeptly turned Tokyo into a poem of serenity by adding greenery. Stepping into Shinjuku Gyoen, you suddenly lose the sense of being at the heart of a hectic and hyper-advanced city. All around you are green foliage, a vast lake, broad lawns and immeasurably high pines. A brief trip to Meiji Shrine in autumn’s red and gold season feels like an escape to a quiet forest in North America. In March and April, when cherry blossoms come into boom, over 1,000 sakura trees in Ueno Park glow radiantly; standing in the pink shade of these trees, we are endowed with a sense of ethereal spring wonder.

Tokyo even somehow maintains a sense of quietude in its busiest corners. Crowds impose their own order, and while people rush in haste, they are quiet and orderly. Talking loudly to friends or into a mobile phone is deeply frowned upon in public.

Springtime in Shinjuku Gyoen Park - Tokyo

Another notable quality of this city is the politeness, elegance and gentleness in everyday gestures of Tokyoites. A wave of train station attendants when the train rolls on or a friendly smile of sale assistants adds an ineffable warmth to life here.  Japanese service is considered possibly the best in the world, so politeness may just be a matter of course. However, if you stay long enough, I think you will recognize that a smile without some extent of sincerity cannot touch the hearts of the many people it graces. The considerate, gentle, reserved and orderly nature of the Tokyoites helps add serenity to all corners of this city.   

So, on a visit to Tokyo, make sure to slow down in the midst of this futuristic city and take in the tranquility that courses deep inside its neon veins.