In 1964, Tokyo became the first city in Asia to host the Olympics, and this summer, the Japanese capital will serve as the summer Games’ venue once again. With the 2020 Olympics (July 24-August 9, followed by the Paralympics August 25-September 6) comes a brand-new, $1.43-billion main stadium built with timber from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures as well as five new sporting events: skateboarding, baseball and softball, surfing, sports climbing (think lightning-quick, spider-like wall-scaling—here’s a video) and karate.
Even without a coveted Olympics ticket—the Wall Street Journal recently forecasted that a Tokyo seat “looks like the toughest Olympic ticket ever”—Japan’s biggest metropolis has plenty to offer tourists: the bustle of Harajuku shopping district, the crowded-but-orderly Shibuya Crossing, conveyer-belt sushi restaurants, the traditional izakayas that line “Piss Alley,” a fashion exhibit at the National Art Center, views from 2,000 feet up in the Tokyo Skytree and the animated film company Studio Ghibli’s headquarters. 2020 also marks the centennial of Meiji Jingu, a mid-city oasis (volunteers planted 100,000 donated trees that have grown towering in the intervening century) and active Shinto shrine dedicated to a former imperial couple. Meiji-Tenno-Sai, the memorial day of Emperor Meiji, falls on July 30, during the Olympics; the 19th- and 20th-century monarch will be commemorated in a Shinto ceremony, and the affiliated Treasure Museum will waive its usual entry fee. In November, the three-day autumn festival at Meiji Jingu takes place. Expect to see traditional Noh theater, sumo, horseback archery and more.
Tokyo’s first time hosting the Olympics was intended to be 1940, but World War II disrupted those plans, and it’s that global conflict that led to another anniversary this year: 75 years have passed since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first (and only) use of nuclear weapons in war, the attacks killed an estimated 275,000 people.
This devastating event for Japan is commemorated at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where a permanent exhibit lays out the belongings of many who died in the strike. The memorial itself—known as the Genbaku Dome—has been preserved exactly as the one-time exhibition hall looked in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. In the port city of Nagasaki, feel the weight of this history at the Atomic Bomb Museum and nearby memorial, the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park, where a lone column pinpoints the spot above which the bomb burst. Both cities are accessible by a combination of shinkansen—bullet trains that debuted for the 1964 Olympics—and express trains.