Most cities have iconic landmarks. Most cities have signature dishes, and unique cultural events. But no city’s unique identity goes as deep as Tokyo’s. The unique identity of Tokyo seems to be woven into the very fabric of the policemen’s uniforms, and mixed into the concrete of the city sidewalks. Like the broader Japanese culture of which it is a part, Tokyo spent most of its history in relative isolation from the rest of the world, taking inspiration from the surrounding East Asian cultures and combining them into a body of traditions that sets the city, and the nation, apart from all others.

But, as strong as this traditional influence might be, the Tokyo of today is not simply a holdover from some earlier time. Traditional Japanese culture, for example, placed an emphasis on tranquility, peace, and natural order. Tokyo could not be any further from this ideal. Instead, it is a chaotic profusion of incongruous buildings, narrow alleyways, and gaudy neon signs on every street corner. The city is constantly pulled in different directions by temporary fashions and fads, even as its cultural heartbeat reaches back into the nation’s past.

The influence of globalization is also clearly recognizable in Tokyo. Businessmen and travelers from all over the world can be found drinking sake in tiny roadside bars, and huge malls sell European and American brands to a broad clientele. But even as the world has come to Japan, Japan has exported its culture to the world through anime, sushi, Japanese landscaping, karate, and a host of other forms. Part of what makes Tokyo so exciting is that you can almost see this constant back-and-forth happening before your eyes.


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