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High-Tech Meets Old School In Tokyo
Prepare to be overstimulated in a city boasting everything from cool gadgets to sweaty sumo.
Hungry for action on my arrival, I set out to explore Tokyos traditional heart as well as its fascinating futuristic face: With flare-topped temples abutting multifloor technology stores, no city pulls off this juxtaposition better than Tokyo. Since my geeky side usually wins these tugs-of-war, I started my trawl in Akihabara, the central neighborhood also known as Electric Town.
Teeming with arcade-noisy stores hawking every gadget known to man (plus plenty known only to the locals), I weaved in a daze between fluorescent Yodobashi, Bic Camera and Llaox outlets. This last was the most tempting because its products including a fluttering, egg-shaped music player that, according to a television monitor, makes everyone dance at boardroom meetings are adaptable for international use.
Barely able to restrain my itchy credit cards, I ducked into a Manga character toy store for a respite and was confronted with shelves of oddball action figures. But not every action figure in this vibrant city is fictional. Hitting the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena later in the day, I found myself engrossed in the ancient sport of sumo.
Seated among chattering, bento-box-cradling spectators high in the stands, I peered down at the centerpiece sand dohyoˉ. With as much psychological strategy as a knotty chess match, the first two fleshy wrestlers strutted around, sprinkled salt to purify the ring and finally came together like a pair of pale, breaching whales. I was glad not to have a front row seat when the losing mountain of a man teetered unsteadily over the flinching crowd.
You dont have to be an expert to enjoy the sumo spectacle, and first-time visitors were quickly caught up in the excitement as the feverish crowd about 12,000 on my visit called out the names of favored combatants and gasped with surprise at unexpected moves. For me the best part was when all the somber-faced wrestlers took the stage and posed in a ceremonial circle, their lavishly embroidered, ritually important miniaprons making them look like carefully coiffured, lifesize dolls.
With my incessant tech itch ready for another scratch, I headed for a late-afternoon visit to Mega Web, a giant, free-entry showcase of Toyota technology, which, recall issues notwithstanding, the company has in abundance. After a Disney-style simulator ride in a Formula One car, a live trombone performance by a jaunty robot and a glimpse at a prototype people mover that looked like a Segway armchair, I stepped back in time to an age when cars were as alluring as Hollywood starlets.
An art gallery of old automobiles, the sites historic garage included a shiny array of gorgeous Corvettes, Jaguars, Citroëns and Alfa Romeos. It was a reminder that even ultramodern Tokyo still values classic aesthetics and simple pleasures. I kept this in mind during my final stop in Shibuya, Tokyos enticing but hyperactive nightlife center.
My brain overflowing with the sights, smells and sounds of winking neon bars, red-lanterned backstreet restaurants and clamorous karaoke venues, I ducked downstairs into a small subterranean lounge for some quiet. In a smoke-filled, wood-lined nook among chilled-out locals, I perched at the end of the counter and sipped some copper-colored Yebisu beer. In a city as stimulating as Tokyo, a bit of calm was a welcome thing.
STAY at the Shangri-La Tokyo, the citys newest high-end sleepover in the heart of the Marunouchi financial district, with grand cityscape views.
EAT at one of the multitude of friendly food stands (including a streetside sake seller) on Yanaka Ginza Street, a quaint shopping destination not far from Ueno Station.
DRINK at Grandfathers, a subterranean bar with a cozy pub feel (helped by background music that favors 1970s-80s rock) near Shibuya Station.
DONT MISS the clamorous Tsukiji Market, a giant fish emporium near the Ginza; the early morning tuna auction is a highlight.