Japan's capital is a place of unfathomable size, endless variety and constant movement, but just below the surface of this futuristic megalopolis is a surprising and delightful sense of calm
Author Robert Michael Poole Photography Marie Takahashi
IN MAY, TOKYO BECAME HOME to the world’s tallest freestanding broadcasting tower, the minaret-like Skytree, atop which people gather to look out over this vast, teeming metropolis. It’s a collective hobby here, gazing out from on high, because of the peace, perhaps, the sense that one is removed from the crush of daily life.
Invariably, the eye will be drawn to distant Mount Fuji, which stands as a symbol of solitude and permanence, both of which are rarities here. Tokyo is a young city—it got its current name and status as Japan’s capital in 1868—but it has seen its share of upheaval. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the bombs of World War II took their toll, forcing rebuilding across the metropolis.
For this, you could forgive Tokyo a conservative streak, but it has gone the other way. Not by accident is Godzilla one of its most enduring cultural icons, a monster whose main talent is crushing landmarks underfoot. The city is constantly reinventing itself, doing away with the old. Every innovation seems only to herald the innovations that will inevitably render it obsolete.
All of this makes Tokyo an exciting, mesmerizing place to be, a sense heightened by its immense size. But below the roiling surface is a devotion to calm, to civility and order. You see this, too—in the parks, the temples, the towers where people gaze off at Mount Fuji and look back, if only for a moment, in a city that drives them unrelentingly forward.