Sometimes you forget to take the most obvious photos. I have passed through the street crossing in front of Harajuku station hundreds, maybe thousands of times. I dare say that the majority of tourists visiting Tokyo has passed this very street crossing at least once. There used to be this huge elevated walkway right on top of the slight hill that is Harajuku. It meant easier crossing as long as you weren’t afraid of using the stairs and you could also get a nice view of Harajuku station from above. But the walkway also meant that you could never get a proper feel for the area from street level, the view was always blocked by the walkway that extended over the entire street crossing.
Well, a couple of weeks ago the walkway was removed and suddenly the views all around were opened up. Just one simple change and it felt like a totally new place. I went back last night to get some photos and when I got home I tried to find a photo, any photo, of the walkway as it used to be for decades, but I couldn’t find any. Sure, it was ugly and unnecessary and I never liked it but now that it is gone, I miss it. Strange, isn’t it?
Google Streetview still has the old walkway in place though, so I added a few screenshot at the end so that you can compare for yourself. Maybe you have an old photo of the walkway to share?
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.
Update 2016/Jan/05: Since at least a few weeks ago when I last passed this cafe it has been closed and the tree house part of it removed. Too bad! RIP cute little cafe!
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.
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!