Tokyo: Urban Sprawl or City of Beauty?

Shinjuku National Garden, Tokyo
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It is said that the Japanese have a great sense of beauty, but no sense of ugliness. I pondered this as I took the airport train to Tokyo. From the window I could see a hotchpotch of houses, some elegant and well designed, others less so. There seemed to be no planning oversight, just houses built to individual taste and specification. The result was a massive urban sprawl: concrete blocks with rusty fire escapes, thick ugly cables running separately to each house, and garish adverts pasted to the sides of buildings. But every so often there was a glimpse of a house with a carefully tended garden, or a graceful pagoda rising above the skyline.  

Tokyo’s Parks and Gardens

It was not long before the other side of Tokyo revealed itself, the side where every effort has been made to please the eye. This is a city of parks and gardens, with sculpted landscapes of bridges, lakes and flowering plants.    

Shinjuku National Garden, Tokyo
The landscaped grounds of the Shinjuku National Garden

We walked around Ueno park at sunset, where trees and other features were festooned with coloured lights. The ornamental lake was filled with plants, sadly dormant at this time of year, but they would become a riot of colour in spring and summer. And the path was lined with illuminated lanterns, each with an individual design to light the way of passers-by.    

Japanese lanterns
The path was lined with illuminated lanterns
Illuminated Japanese lantern
Each lantern had its own individual design

Art and Food in Tokyo

In the National Museum of Modern Art we admired an eclectic selection of modern paintings, but my eye was drawn to the more traditional woodblocks and painted screens. Here were delicate pictures of birds, mountains and cherry blossom: timeless expressions of perfection.  

Japanese landscape painting
Traditional Japanese landscape
Japanese painted screen
Painted screen with cherry blossom

Then there is the food. Delicately laid out platters of sushi with flowers carved from vegetables, or plates of meat and noodles, each element of the meal carefully positioned to create an aesthetic whole. And one evening our Kirin beer arrived topped with a sculped head of granita. You don’t get that anywhere else!    

Japanese beer
The beer arrived with a sculpted head!

It may be true that Tokyo is a fast moving modern city full of cars and mismatched buildings. But you don’t have to look hard to find the careful design, both modern and traditional, that makes it a city of beauty.  

Read more about Tokyo:

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4 thoughts on “Tokyo: Urban Sprawl or City of Beauty?”

  1. joangogreenlivegreen

    Awesome post Karen!!! Thank you for sharing about Tokyo…..I love the Asian way and am inspired by it!

  2. Hi Karen,
    I found you on Nate's blog and thought I would come say hello! I would one day like to travel to Japan … seeing pictures of it is wonderful… thank you and look forward to visiting again!

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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