Tokyo 

Past and future make a perfect present

Perhaps no great city on earth manages to embrace the future and venerate the past as well as Tokyo does. Thanks to the city's remarkable balancing act, it's easy for a visitor to spend a day bestriding the centuries. Let's start with the future.

I am riding one of Japan's technological marvels across the roof of Tokyo, on board the Yurikamome line monorail train as it speeds through canyons of skyscrapers in the Shimbashi district. I am en route to the manmade island of Odaiba, which has evolved into a showcase of futuristic Japanese entertainment, museum and architectural experiences.

One of these comes into view as the driverless train rounds the graceful curve of the Rainbow Bridge, which crosses Tokyo Bay. The Fuji TV studio building, with it unusual "open window" design and 1,000-plus tonne, spherical centrepiece is a photographic must-have shot.

I jump off the train at the Odaiba station and start exploring. My expedition will include visits to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, with its demonstration displays of robotics and space technologies; and Toyota Mega Web, where licensed drivers have the chance to drive the latest Toyota vehicles on a 1.3-kilometre test course and get their fill of restored classic cars in the History Garage.

In the mood for more of Tokyo's future visions, I head to Roppongi Hills, a development whose four towers reach 238 metres at their peak. Tallest of these is the Mori Tower, which offers public access to its 52nd and 53rd floors.

I walk the wide, enclosed observation deck and use the telescopes to peer down into the sprawling city of more than 35 million people. The tower also houses the Mori Arts Museum modern-art gallery. A visitor may even catch the eerily human-like performance of Asimo, the Honda-built robot stationed there.

When I am, finally, satiated by all things 22nd century, I turn instead to the Japanese appreciation of life's simpler pleasures, as expressed in customs and practices perfected through the centuries.

The Japanese tea ceremony, for instance, pays tribute to the Zen outlook of living in, and maximizing the moment. The moment, in this case, can run to potentially four hours, as ornate cups are gently distributed and tea poured by an attendant in traditional garb. The idea is to settle in. One place where visitors are welcome to a tea ceremony (with an English-speaking host) is the Hotel New Otani, which has daily seatings. Here, time-pressed visitors can experience an abbreviated tea ceremony lasting about 20 minutes.

Gardening is close to the Japanese heart, and one of its most iconic expressions is ikebana, the artistic display of plants and flowers. Unlike Western flower arranging, which emphasizes the blooms, ikebana often focuses on other parts of the plant, like its stems and leaves. The ikebana artist uses minimalist shapes and lines to convey an artistic impression. Simple, evocative pottery enhances the presentation. For those who want a deeper understanding of the practice, the Ohara School of Ikebana in Aoyama has daylong English-language lessons.

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For information on Tokyo visit the Tokyo tourism website at tourism.metro.tokyo.jp

For information on Japan visit the Japan National Tourism Organization at www.jnto.go.jp

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