Tokyo: Where the past and future mix

Japan is rich in history, but new technology has been applied to every area of life - from bullet trains to robots

Elegant kimonos, geishas with their stylised hair and make-up, ancient temples with gates and pagodas: this is often the impression that Western visitors have of Japan.

But the 21st-century reality is very different. These days, high-speed - and high-tech - bullet trains link Japan’s main cities; visitors to Tokyo can cruise the Sumida river in the Himiko, a floating craft that is more like a spaceship than a boat; and modern technology has been applied to every area of Japanese life.

Robots are everywhere - a robot recently conducted a Japanese wedding ceremony - although the best place to find out what they can really do is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This fascinating display presents a vision of the future across many branches of science. Even if your interest in scientific matters is limited, it is hard not to be impressed by the museum’s Robot World, where the technology is so advanced it is often hard to distinguish between robots and humans.

Modern art, as well as science, is a feature of Tokyo, too, and it has its focus in the district of Roppongi Hills. Here, the National Art Centre, the Suntory Museum of Art and the Mori Art Museum make up Art Triangle Roppongi. The result is an extensive showcase for contemporary art, displayed in a variety of temporary exhibitions, all within easy reach of each other. The Mori museum is particularly notable for its location, at the top of a tower known as the Museum Cone, a funnel-shaped building clad in concrete and covered with glass and translucent ceramics so it glows at night.



For more than 50 years, the Tokyo Tower has dominated the city’s skyline, but it is set to be eclipsed when construction of the futuristic Tokyo Sky Tree is finished next year. The well known Japanese architect Tadao Ando is the project director for Sky Tree and the surrounding area. Sky Tree will take over the functions of the older tower, but the area around will be put to better use with new shopping areas and office facilities. Ando’s work is also prominent in Kyoto, notably at the Garden of Fine Arts, where famous works of art are reproduced on ceramic plates in an open-air museum constructed below ground level.

South-east of Kyoto, near the town of Shigaraki, is the Miho Museum, designed by IM Pei to house a private art collection. Much of the building is carved out of the mountainside, and the mix of glass, steel and French limestone threatens to upstage the works inside it. Kyoto itself is steeped in history, but is also the home of such contemporary products as Nintendo. The company originally manufactured playing cards, but is now better known for Pokémon, the Game Boy and the Wii. Gadgets such as these, and many more products that have yet to make their way to Europe, can be found in the Akihabara electronics district in Tokyo. And for car-lovers eager to find out what they might be driving in years to come, an afternoon spent at the Toyota complex will be a revelation. Although it contains a garage full of past designs, future models are showcased here, too.

One of Japan’s most creative industries is fashion: the range on offer stretches from Onitsuka Tiger trainers, whose cool factor has increased each time they’ve appeared in a Hollywood movie, to clothes designed by Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, not forgetting high-street names such as Muji and Uniqlo.

Japan Fashion Week, from now to 24 October, has established itself in the international fashion calendar, and anyone wanting to get ahead of the trend can find clothes by up-and-coming designers in the upmarket stores on Omotesando, or in the livelier boutiques on Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district.

Ancient but modern

The city of Kyoto is renowned for its history as an ancient imperial capital, full of elegant shrines and attractive gardens. But anyone visiting now will find a city full of contemporary attractions, from cafes to crafts.

Cocon Karasuma takes traditional woodblock-printed paper from its origins in the 16th century, and brings it into modern times. For 12 generations, the Senda family has been making “karakami” paper, now adapted to blend into any contemporary interior setting. At Kyoto Homay, denim is combined with traditional kimono fabrics and adorned with typical Japanese motifs such as cherry blossom to create everyday clothing that has a striking oriental twist.

Sou-Sou specialises in tabi - ankle socks where the big toe is separated from the others - and traditional cotton smocks, known as samue. It combines the designs with contemporary Finnish Marimekko prints, turning them into trendy cycling gear.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most