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Tokyo was once two cities in one, with samurai in the west and townspeople in the east -today, visitors to Japan’s capital can seek out echoes of this dual personality
Tokyo’s frequently changing skyline seen from the 52nd foor of the Mori Tower. Opposite Omoide Yokocho is a warren of small bars and eateries by Shinjuku station


Every day, three million people pass through Shinjuku station.

A multitude of its exits point commuters to shopping malls and high-rise offce blocks. Others lead to alleyways thick with the smell of grills, where shop signs clamour for attention, and walkers on a rainy night have to negotiate clashing umbrellas and other low-lying obstacles. Tokyo never stays still for long, but the balance between its more polished face and its earthier corners has been a constant, one that newcomers to the capital discover for themselves.

Clockwise from top left The neon-lit streets of eastern Shinjuku; dressing up for the day in Asakusa, the heart of the low-town Shitamachi; a more formal photo session in the grounds of Senso-ji; the temple has been much rebuilt over 1,380 years

Edo, as it was once known, was in fact two cities. On the higher ground to the west was the Yamanote (‘hand of the mountain’), where feudal lords and their samurai gathered around the castle of the shoguns – Japan’s military rulers from 1603 to 1867. To service these wealthy quarters, the Shitamachi (‘lower town’) grew up on the marshes to the east. Ordinary citizens lived in a thicket of narrow wooden houses and shops, soon to become the world’s largest city.

Hidden buddhas and sacred car washes

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - June 2016
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