Tokyo is a place of pulsing clubs, steep-roofed temples, narrow lanes packed with smoky restaurants where meat sizzles on grills and karaoke pubs whose yowled anthems spill into the streets.
Tradition can be hard to find amid the lanes and towers of the metropolis of 13 million, the headquarters of corporations such as Sony and host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, mainly due to its reputation as a spick-and-span place that gets things done.
But a little time, and a willingness to wander, lead to backstreets where blocks of tofu bob in vats of water, tatami mat-makers ply their trade and customers line up in front of ramen shops eager to slurp noodles from steaming bowls.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Tokyo from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
The Sumida river, a major artery in Edo, as Tokyo was once known, has featured in ukiyo-e woodblock prints, swathed in snow or illuminated by summer fireworks displays. View such prints at the Ota Memorial Museum. (here)
Though the river, surrounded by concrete, is less lovely today, a ferry ride from Hinode Pier up to Asakusa is still fun. The boat glides under numerous bridges past landmarks such as Tsukuda, known for centuries as the home of "tsukudani", a dish of meat, seafood or seaweed simmered in soy sauce and mirin, then dabbed onto steaming white rice.
Not far away is Tsukiji, a vast and chaotic fish market said to be the world's largest, whose best hours come around dawn. To see the tuna auctions people must apply on a first-come, first-served basis from 4.30 a.m. at the information centre at the Kachidoki entrance to the market. One group of 60 is let in between 5.25 a.m. and 5.50 a.m., and another from 5.50 a.m. to 6.15 a.m. (here)
Further upriver is the Kokugikan, where Grand Sumo tournaments are held three times a year, in January, May and September. (www.sumo.or.jp/en/ticket/)
The two-week-long tournaments start early in the morning and feature giant, nearly naked wrestlers grappling on a raised sand ring. Viewers cheer on favorites while drinking beer and munching snacks, sometimes waiting at the doors to see them enter or leave.
Alight from the boat at Asakusa and, with the river at your back, walk 10 minutes to Sensoji, the Asakusa Kannon Buddhist temple. Enter through the Kaminarimon, a bright red gate with a huge dangling lantern, and head up the Nakamise shopping street.
The Asakusa area still has an old neighborhood vibe. About five minutes' walk from the temple is a street of restaurants selling grilled meat on skewers and stewed tripe with tofu. Belly up to a counter stool for some beer or hot sake.
FISH, GLORIOUS FISH
No visit to Tokyo would be complete without sushi and Tsukiji is the place to go. Wander the narrow lanes of the outer market and join the lines outside shops for some of the freshest fish around. Other shops offer meals of simmered or grilled fish, soup and rice.
For bragging rights, visit Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny basement sushi restaurant run by an octogenarian chef that hosted US President Barack Obama when he visited Japan in April. Reservations at this three-Michelin-starred eatery must be made well ahead. (here)
If you feel daring enough, try the fugu, a poisonous blowfish that can be fatal if improperly prepared.
Torafugu Tei Monzen Naka-cho offers reasonably priced meals that include delicate slices of raw fugu fanned across a plate and chunks of the fish fried crisp in batter, finishing with a thick rice porridge.
To drink, there is hot sake flavored with a toasted fugu fin.