Japan's population may be skewing older, leading the global march to demographic gridlock, but Tokyo feels like a city powered by the young. Sophisticated and sprawling, with half a dozen city centers that long ago grew together, it combines the life force of a national capital of everything -- politics, finance, culture, style -- with a talent for change and renewal that it earned the hard way, bouncing back after repeated flattening by earthquakes, fires and war over its 400 years of existence. The skyscraper race of the '90s has slowed down, but a new romance with the city's waterfront is flourishing, spots for sushi and pâté de foie gras are always being added to its 160,000 restaurants, and the teenagers jamming anime-inspired shopping districts update the outlandish costume of the moment every few months.
3 p.m.1. Spirit World
It's easy to forget while squeezing onto the subway or dancing to techno-pop, but Tokyo is still the seat of an emperor. At the Meiji Shrine (1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizono-cho, Shibuya-ku; meijijingu.or.jp), the deified spirit of the Emperor Meiji, the current emperor's great-grandfather, resides in a Shinto temple surrounded by 170,000 majestic trees. A 40-foot-high arched torii gateway marks your entry into this spiritual world, and a network of paths leads to the shrine. The forest feels peaceful and far from the busy city, even though this is one of Tokyo's most visited outdoor places.
4 p.m.2. The Stylish Swarm
Abandon tranquillity with a short walk to the shopper-clogged streets of the Harajuku district. Shops selling everything to outfit the fashionable teenager crowd Takeshita Dori, a jam-packed pedestrian-only alley. Omotesando, a tree-lined boulevard, projects a more mature vision of chic with European designer outlets like Dior and Louis Vuitton; Paris-inspired cafes; LaForet, a boutique complex featuring up-to-the-minute styles; and Omotesando Hills, a Tadao Ando-designed shopping arcade devoted to high-end fashion.
7 p.m.3. Consult the Sommelier
A favorite after-work stop in Tokyo is the izakaya, a pub selling small plates of bar food, typically with beer. The format gets a high-end twist at Izakaya Vin (1-5-7 Dogenzaka; 81-3-3496-2467) in Shibuya, where the plates (800 to 1,600 yen, or $8.25 to $16.50, at 97 yen to the dollar) feature selections like Parma ham, whitefish carpaccio and duck salad, and the libation is French wine from an extensive list. A glass is around 1,500 yen, but the sommelier closest to your table will also open a bottle for you, for a price ranging from 7,300 to 1 million yen. A well-dressed crowd munches, sips and chats at small tables spread over three floors.
10 p.m.4. Street Moves
After-dinner coffee comes with a show at the Starbucks overlooking the Scramble Intersection (more properly called the Shibuya Crossing), a hub of busy streets. Instead of walking with traffic, pedestrians are held back until the traffic lights stop all vehicles simultaneously. Then, in a triumph of crosswalk choreography, hundreds of people surge out and completely fill Hachiko Square, walking in all directions yet never colliding. They're all just going from one place to another, but it's a scene reminiscent of both performance art and the maneuvers of a Big Ten marching band, and it has become a popular attraction. If all the second-floor window seats are taken, watch from the Mark City pedestrian passage at the Shibuya train station across the street, near "The Myth of Tomorrow," a haunting "Guernica"-like mural depicting the horror of an atomic bomb detonation.
10 a.m.5. On the Sumida
A latecomer to the notion of a recreational waterfront, Tokyo now looks to the water for more than seafood. From Hinode Pier at the edge of Tokyo Bay, take a cruise into the heart of the city on the Sumida River, passing riverside walkways and feeder canals. Commentary in Japanese and English focuses on the 13 bridges that slip by overhead, but the real point is the unusually open perspective on this congested city. Other cruises cross the bay to Odaiba, an island that has taken off as an entertainment district covered with amusement parks, museums, shopping malls and a spa that draws geothermally heated water from deep under the bay. (Tokyo Cruise; 81-3-0120-977311; suijobus.co.jp; 760 yen.)
11 a.m.6. Sample the Senbei
When your boat docks in the old riverfront district of Asakusa, join crowds pouring toward Sensoji, a Buddhist temple founded in the seventh century. This is a favorite spot with out-of-town Japanese tourists, and its paved courtyard and paths are likely to be crammed with happy, chattering sightseers who all know the ropes of cleansing, clapping and bowing. Not to mention shopping; the temple also has its own arcade of merchants' stalls. A Shinto shrine shares the grounds, a typical arrangement in a country whose two dominant religions often blur. Get into the festive spirit of worshipers catching wafts of supposedly curative incense and souvenir hunters buying cheap knickknacks. Then do your own shopping just outside on Nakamise Dori, a market street since Tokyo's earliest days. Amid the T-shirts and toy swords, look for traditional crafts and artfully wrapped packages of senbei, rice crackers often flavored with soy sauce.
12:30 p.m.7. Better Batter
Aoi Marushin (1-4-4 Asakusa, Taito-ku; aoi-marushin.co.jp) has been serving tempura in Asakusa since Showa 21 (the 21st year of the reign of Emperor Hirohito, or, in Western terms, 1946). Order the set menu (2,700 yen) and savor succulent chunks of shrimp, fish and vegetables in a delicate batter that somehow makes fried food seem light. The restaurant has the feel of a neighborhood place, with condiments on the closely crammed tables and local families out for Saturday lunch.
2 p.m. 8. Old Edo
The Edo-Tokyo Museum (1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku; edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp; admission 600 yen), near the main sumo wrestling arena in the Ryogoku neighborhood, tells the story of Tokyo since its founding in the 1600s as Edo, the shoguns' capital. There's some scary-looking samurai armor, but most of these well-designed displays focus on daily life. Artifacts range from a wooden fire pump to bamboo skis; paintings and prints show a cyclone and women making silk; and mannequins pose in reconstructed workshops and tiny houses -- one contains a tasteful depiction of childbirth, with a midwife in attendance and the older children looking on. You could rent an audio tour or reserve time with one of the volunteer guides (whose English may be hard to follow). But a simpler strategy is to hit the gift shop first and buy a copy of the well-designed museum guidebook so that you can proceed at your own pace. The book comes in a variety of languages, and it clearly explains all of the displays.
5 p.m.9. Geeks and Lolitas
Prepare for audiovisual attack in Akihabara, where stores scream for the attention of gamers and fans of anime, which seems to be everyone in Tokyo under 25. Young women dressed as teasing French maids are on every corner, luring the computer geeks called otaku into "maid cafes" where waitresses fawn over them. In Don Quijote (4-3-3 Kanda, Chiyoda-ku; donki.com), a store that seems to sell everything, take the elevator to the eighth floor and work your way back down to the street, floor by floor. On the highest levels, cacophonous clusters of high-scoring gamers bend over video screens or speed through dance moves in games where feet, not hands, make the moves. Farther down are retail floors where bouffant skirts, adult-size schoolgirl uniforms and kitty ears supply the needs of the current sexy-child version of costume play, or "cosplay," a form of dress-up street wear often inspired by anime characters. Closest to the street, as more practical items begin to creep in, a hodgepodge of merchandise results in weird juxtapositions like washing machines and electric cookers next to a floor-to-ceiling display of false eyelashes.
8 p.m.10. Japanese Classic
The quintessential meal of Japan is kaiseki, a lengthy dinner in which each of the many courses has its own artful presentation. At Hinokizaka, on the 45th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the skyscraper-choked Akasaka section, one evening's kaiseki menu, at 12,000 yen, proceeded from plum wine to a pear dessert with a parade of excellently prepared seafood -- raw, puréed, grilled, fried and simmered -- with vegetables, rice, soup and matsutake mushrooms. Couples sipped wine or sake with their elegantly presented dinners, and every table seemed to have a view out the floor-to-ceiling windows across a sea of illuminated office towers against a black velvet sky. Waitresses in fine silk kimonos glided among the tables, and the city lights shimmered below.
10 a.m.11. Kamikaze Memories
Yasukuni Shrine (3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda-ku, www.yasukuni.or.jp), near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo's traditional center, comes disturbingly close to glorifying a brutal militaristic past. But this is also Japan's memorial to its veterans and soldiers. In the attached museum (800 yen), the not-to-be-missed exhibits are two suicide weapons: a replica of a kamikaze plane and a piloted torpedo. Outside the shrine, turn your mind to more pleasant topics with a walk in the palace's northern gardens, also called Kitanomaru Park, amid joggers and families with baby strollers carrying on their 21st-century lives against the backdrop of the old stone palace wall.
The Palace Hotel Tokyo (1-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku,; palacehoteltokyo.com), overlooking the Imperial Palace grounds, reopened in May 2012 after a three-year renovation. There is an Evian spa. Rooms from 35,000 yen.
The multitowered Shinagawa Prince Hotel (4-chome, Minato-ku; princehotels.com/en/shinagawa) is huge, convenient and comfortable. Annex Tower rooms, from 12,500 yen.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.