In Tokyo’s Aoyama/Omotesando district there are tons of hidden gems for tourists and local that stray off the big roads and enter the maze of tiny streets and alley where the real heart of Aoyama is. Despite Aoyama being one of the most famous address in Tokyo, it feels very secluded and remarkably empty to wander around the back streets at any time of the day. The streets are absolutely loaded with top notch boutiques, fashionable hair dressers and great tiny (and not even that expensive) bars and restaurants. I guess it must the fear of getting lost that keeps people away because even after visiting the are dozens of times I still have to keep a mental track of where I am going and in which direction I am heading. But there is no harm in getting lost and wherever you end up is bound to be good, whether it is Omotesando, Shibuya or Harajuku.
A few weeks ago I took a wrong turn on my way home late one night and stumbled upon the Portofino center. It was just after a major rain and the rather splendid architecture with the wooden details were shining in the light reflected from the street lights. It felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden treasure! I returned a few day later and took these photos of the Portofino buildings, and of the wedding hall so beautifully reflected in the windows. The Saint Grace Cathedral (which of course is not a real Cathedral, it is just the name of the building and the wedding event planning company that runs it. Japanese people are quite in love with the romantic idea of a gorgeous western wedding so all around Japan there are these little faux churches to cater to the soon to be wedded couples. Although it might look a little like a movie prop, the place looks fantastic when used in wedding ceremonies and considering the costs involved in flying a wedding party to a proper church abroad, it is quite reasonable (and ecological). Almost every night you can see couples practicing for the wedding ceremony or doing the photo shoots in the beautifully lit night.
The easiest way to find this place is to go to Ao Building in Aoyama, and then turn left just to the side of it, walk straight into the maze of streets and keep an eye out for the towers. It is easier to find at night! The place is quite new and not very established yet but there are restaurants, clinics and wine bars, so far.
In March this year the fourth incarnation of the Ginza Kabuki theatre opened. Originally founded in 1889, it burned down several times in earthquakes and wars, and in 2010 it was torn again to make room for a safer building. Even if you have been to the original building site it is hard to notice that the new building has been set back a few meters from the road, leaving more room in front of the theatre to make it more accessible. One of these days I am going to try and see one of the kabuki shows here!
Kakunodate, a small town in northern Akita prefecture is famous for two things – their cherry tree lined river bank and their well preserved samurai houses, bukeyashiki. There’s quite a few surviving samurai houses spread around the country but nowhere is there so many as here in Kakunodate. Most of them are still privately owned by the old samurai families but several have been opened to the public or serve as cafes, restaurants or shops. It’s a great chance to see how the warriors of Japan lived in private. It’s easy to get to the city since it’s a stop on the Akita shinkansen line, right between Morioka in Iwate Prefecture and Akita City.
The other day, walking around the backstreets of Omotesando I noticed the many vacant lots and alleyways in the city, and I suddenly saw all manner of things filling up the space left by the buildings that once stood there, the gaps in-between. I think this could be an interesting subject for a photo book about Tokyo, Gaps. Vacant lots. Spaces. Buldings peeking through other buildings or the ghosts of other buildings long gone. Tokyo Gaps. Now if only I could find 6-7 extra hours to attach to each day and I’d be ready to search the city!