This post will not be remembered for its aesthetic values, but it might be useful for tourists in Tokyo over the eager to get some Christmas shopping done! Feel free to disregard if commercialism is not your thing! If you are into character goods, seasonal souvenirs and christmas shopping for young and old children, I recommend giving the shopping arcades beneath Tokyo Station a visit. There are lots of tiny promotional stores down there with lots of peculiar toys and characters, some famous (Like Pikachu wearing a train officer’s hat), while some are very not famous outside of Japan. I took these snap shots last year passing through the arcade, but I think similar shops are open this year’s Christmas as well!
To mark the centennial of the Tokyo Station building a special light was held on the 20th of December which marks the exact 100 year birthday of the station. The building has been through wars and Earthquakes but after a recent five year long renovation project it looks better than ever right now. The light show on the more neglected Yaesu side of the station will keep going for a few more weeks though, although without the special text messages. A good place to take walk when the weather is not too rough! The 20th saw quite a lot of rain and very very cold winds.
One of my favorite places in Tokyo for a casual walk is still around the Tokyo station area, especially on the Marunouchi side. The station just looks fantastic after the renewal and the new light up at night. Since I first visited Tokyo station the area has gotten better and better options for viewing the station from above as well. First it was the viewing balcony on the Marubiru (Marunouchi Building), then the Shinmarubiru balcony and last year we got the roof garden at the JP Tower (or the KITTE). Tokyo Station and the Marunouchi area just keeps getting better and better!
In the Edo period that lasted until the second half of the 19th century, the area today called Marunouchi was the area between the many defensive moats of the castle and palaces that is today the Imperial Palace. Today the area is bustling with people and activity but even in 1910 the area was famous for being pretty much deserted after seven in the evening. If we look at Marunouchi even before that, the area was the home of many feudal lords and nobles, and when the castle was being built, Marunouchi was famous for being a beautiful piece of land near the ocean. About a hundred and fifty years ago when the emperor had moved to Tokyo and the feudal lords had been ordered to return to their provinces, the many abandoned houses in Marunouchi had a negative impact on local law and order, and female office workers and factory staff were ordered to start work at 6:30 instead of the normal 5:30 to ensure their safety. It is hard to imagine Marunouchi as once having been considered dangerous! In 1890 when most of Marunouchi was sold to the Mitsubishi shipping company, it was said that the grass was so tall you could lose a rickshaw in it and people quickly jokingly changed the name from Mitsubishigahara (the fields of Mitsubishi) to Tobakugaha (the fields of gambling). When the shipping magnate was asked what on earth he was planning to do with such a huge field of abandoned wasteland he jokingly replied “Well, I might just plant some bamboo and even keep a pet tiger”! 「なあに、竹を植えて、虎でも飼うさ」
Who said Japanese business men didn’t have a sense of humour? Today Marunouchi land prices are some of the highest in the world.
One of the areas of Tokyo that has changed the most in the last decade is without a doubt the stately old Marunouchi, between Tokyo station and the Imperial palace. The area has seen several huge new builds and massive renovations that shows off the areas importance as the financial center of Tokyo. Celebrating 10 years in 2014 is the Ozao, a collection of four interlocked building of which the two largest have 29 floors above ground and four floors below ground. The name, in typical Japanese fashion is an abbreviation of the O in Otemachi (the neighboring area to the north of Marunouchi) enclosing, the slightly modified AZ of the Japanese word for play (“asobu”), it also stands a short for Office and Amenity Zone, as well as the obvious connection with the word oasis. A lot of Japanese concepts, buildings, services and organization make their names like this!
The public area of Oazo has quite a few shops, free wifi, cafes and one of the bigger book stores in Tokyo, the Maruzen, with a large and fairly good selection of foreign language books (mostly English and French). The book store itself has an in store gallery that often has nice exhibitions of luxury oriented arts and craft.
To get to Oazo simply exit Tokyo Station at any of the Marunouchi exits and turn right. Walk down to the end corner of the station and you will find the massice Oazo right in front of you. I am sure there will be plenty of events and celebrations come August and September when they celebrate Oazo’s birthday!