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Tokyo Attractions

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

Tokyos most revered Buddhist temple and a site of pilgrimage and tourism for many centuries, Sensoji Temple was founded in 628AD to enshrine a gold statuette of the Kannon Bodhisattva (the Goddess of Mercy). The temple and its five-storey pagoda are concrete reconstructions, but the temple precincts are nevertheless always bustling with worshippers. Smoke from the huge incense burner in front of the temple is said to have healing powers.

The impressive Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is famous for its enormous red paper lantern and fearsome guardian statues, and the temple approach is lined with shops selling traditional sweets and souvenirs. This area was the centre of Shitamachi (downtown) during the Edo period, and the streets, shops and restaurants surrounding the temple still preserve something of the flavour of old Edo. The great Sanja festival takes place annually in Asakusa on the third weekend in May. Over one hundred mikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded through the streets, accompanied by great celebration and huge crowds.

2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Tel: (03) 38 42 55 66 (Asakusa Cultural and Sightseeing Centre).
Transport: Asakusa station, eastern terminus of Ginza underground line.
Opening hours: Daily 0600-1700.
Admission: Free.

Tokyo Tocho (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices)

Located in bustling Shinjuku, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices are notable both for their extraordinary architecture and for the splendid free observation decks on the 45th floor. Designed by Kenzo Tange, one of Japans top architects, the monumental twin towers are said to be inspired by Notre Dame, but the imposing granite façade rather brings to mind scenes of Batmans Gotham City. The observation decks, one in each tower, are reached by high-speed elevator and give spectacular views over the city. It is said that on particularly fine days one can see Mount Fuji.

2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tel: (03) 53 20 78 90.
Transport: Shinjuku station (then ten-minute walk - follow the underground passage leading west); or Tochomae station on Toei Oedo underground line.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 0930-2200.
Admission: Free.

Meiji-jingu (Meiji Shrine)

One of Japans finest examples of Shinto architecture, the atmospheric Meiji Shrine is tucked away in the centre of a dark, cool forest, an unexpected oasis in the centre of the city. Passing through a vast wooden torii gate, the visitor follows the wide gravel path through the forest and into the shrine precincts. Completed in 1920, the shrine honours the memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose reign Japan rapidly modernised and reopened to the outside world.

On weekends it is often possible to see a traditional wedding procession, and the precincts are one of the best places to witness the finery and festivities of New Year, Coming of Age Day (January 15), and the childrens festival Shichi-Go-San (weekends around November 15). The Jingu Naien Garden in the shrine grounds is well worth visiting in June for the spectacular displays of irises.

1-1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
Transport: Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote loop line; or Meiji-jingumae station on the Chiyoda underground line.
Opening hours: Daily dawn to dusk (shrine); daily 0900-1630 (Jingu Naien Garden).
Admission: Free (shrine); ¥500 (Jingu Naien Garden).

Kyoko Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden): The Imperial Palace East Garden, on the site of the old Edo Castle of the shoguns, is the only part of the Imperial Palace that is regularly open to the public. Entered through the Otemon Gate, once the main entrance to the castle, it is a pleasant formal garden, surrounded by a sectio