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.
One of the oddest cafes in Tokyo must be the Hideaway Treehouse cafe in Harajuku, where for just one crinkly note can get a nice meal and a drink while enjoying nature at just a tap of the knuckle away. Or as they say, you can enjoy Treedom! I visited last week and took these photos in a gap between customers. The restaurant probably seats about 16 people when absolutely crowded. The thing with it is the tree which they built the restaurant around. When the wind blows harder the tree sways in front of you and it fun to sip on a ginger ale while looking at the birds walking around on the roof on top of you! Easily one of the must see cafes in Tokyo. The cafe seems to be run by a group working to promote treehouses around the world, and there’s plenty of literature on the subject on sale, as well as clothers, magazines, hammocks, camping gear and other odds and ends. I am already planning my next excuse to visit!
Oh, and I love the wonky anarchistic freedom in finding a cafe run like this in the middle of one of the most expensive areas of Tokyo, the biggest city on Earth. I can’t think of many western countries where the city officials wouldn’t get a heart attack from seeing this place!
Findiing it is part of the fun. Let’s just say it is somewhere in the maze of backstreets around Harajuku.
If you are in Tokyo today you really should treat yourself to the gourmet event of the spring, the All Japan Food Festival held right between Harajuku and Shibuya station outside and at the NHK Broadcasting Center (if you travel by the Yamanote line you’d be closest from Harajuku station) from 10 to 16. I went and got to try a lot of great food and drinks from all over the country. It was absolutely not the best place and time to do photography as I bought bags of stuff and spent most of my time with food in my hands but I did manage to get a few shots! Here’s the captions:
1. A yuzu juice drink from Tochigi prefecture, named appropriately Yuzuppe, after the local dialect’s habit of ending sentences with the word …dappe! 2. Delicious chicken clubs from Shimane prefecture. 3. Fizzy Pear soft drink from Tottori prefecture. 4. Garlic rayu (a kind of seasoning pefect for your plain white rice) and melon juice cans from Shiga prefecture. 5. The super cute Shiga melon character Ouminchi! 6. & 7. Daidai (bitter orange) cider and daidai/wasabi dressing. 8. Some very interesting and very rare actually made in Tokyo Japanese sake! 9. One of the cute Hokkaido berry girls! 10. 100% Saga prefecture Mikan juice. 11. The straw God from Kagoshima prefecture remade in Tokyo.
The few holidays after New Year’s is vital to Tokyo’s shopping districts and department stores do their best to lure customers with sales, bargain bags and performances! La Foret, one of the premier youth fashion department stores in the world put up this performance by the Yushima Tenjin Shiraume Taiko group (湯島天神白梅太鼓), which has to be one of the most beautiful taiko drum groups in the world! It was packed with people already before they started but somehow I managed to wriggle my way to the front where I crouched down (so as not to bother the people behind me) and go these pictures. They were just as fantastic as they look!