Tokyobling's Blog

Toranomon Tiger

Posted in Places by tokyobling on August 18, 2015

Tokyo has a lot of interesting place names and the study of them should be enough to keep a brigade of budding toponymists busy for the better part of a century. One of the first names most tourists notice is the Toranomon (虎ノ門) which literally translates as “The Tiger Gate”. But as is so often the case with interesting place names, this name has nothing to do with tigers although very much to do with gates. During the Edo Period there was a large castle, the Edo Castle, where the Imperial Palace is located today. The castle had 36 gates, and 12 of them were named after the traditional names for the directions onto which they opened (which also corresponds to the different hours of the clock and the years of the Chinese zodiac). One of them being Tiger, Tora (寅). The gate was located in an a place called Shibaimairimachi (or so I believe), but In the 1920s a popular and well used tram station was placed in where the gated had been, called Toranomon with the animal name rather than the zodiac name. The name stuck and in 1938 a Subway station was inaugurated with the same name. In 1949 the area around the tram station was named Toranomon and in 1952 the large parts of the city in that area were renamed Toranomon, numbered one to five. I think the name stuck because it is vaguely cool, the old Shibaimairimachi disappeared and even the much more attractively named Kamiyacho disappeared completely from the maps (the name remains only as subway station in Toranomon Gochome) in 1977. Why this happened is quite a mystery to me.

Today Toranomon is “the Showa style business district” of Tokyo. When Tokyoites think of men in suits doing important business and in large well known corporations they think of Toranomon. This mental image will soon disappear though, as the old style Toranomon was more or less rebuilt to a much more modern business area during 2011-2014. It is fun to watch old movies set in Tokyo and try to name all the locations, especially since Toranomon features in so many movies.

To commemorate the name change, the local neighborhood committee put up a bronze statue of a tiger in 1979, which is now a bit of a tourist attraction.

Another interesting piece of history is the 1923 assassination attempt on the then Crown Prince Regent, Hirohito (who would soon be crowned Emperor) which took place not far away by the usual kind of communist revolutionary ideologist. The attempt is now known as the Toranomon Incident. If you ever exit the Toranomon Subway station Exit 3, you can look at roughly 10 o’clock (ahead and slightly to the left) and imagine the pistol shot shattering the car window near the young Crown Prince at 10:45 in the morning, December 27th 1923.

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More Toranomon Hills

Posted in Places by tokyobling on March 26, 2015

The other day I made a new visit to the grand (and fairly new) Toranomon Hills in Tokyo’s Toranomon district and the streets and buildings around it. You can read about my first visit over here, in a blog post from October last year. It seems like a cool place to live and work but I haven’t yet met anyone who does that personally. Maybe some day! Apart from offices the tower itself also has a few shops and more than a handful of restaurants and cafes, most of which I haven’t yet checked out. The trick for people on a budget is to visit the fancier restaurants for lunch rather than evening dinner, as the prices are usually about half as much as dinner time. Despite being named Toranomon Hills it is actually a bit of a walk from Toranomon station, but not so far as to be daunting.

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Sunny Hills – Minami Aoyama Architecture

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on March 6, 2015

Here is one for all my architect readers (well, both of them): Sunny Hills in Tokyo’s central Minami Aoyama district (or in Omotesando for those of us who think in terms of subway stations), which is the flagship store of a premium Taiwanese cake brand. The building itself has been much written about in architecture press, and I thought it would be interesting to show how it looks recently, about a year after completion. More information about the building can be found here. If you are into contemporary Japanese architecture this is a good place to start, not least for the delicious (and expensive) cakes!

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Roppongi Piramide – Art Galleries

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on February 12, 2015

Roppongi is home to hundreds of art galleries, but finding them and visiting them can be both difficult and exhaustive. One of the less well known cluster of art galleries for the aesthetically hungry is the Piramide building, very close to Roppongi Hills. The building itself is peculiar enough to interest modern architecture fans but there are also many tiny galleries housed inside the building, making it a convenient place to see a lot of contemporary art in one tiny place. I might be biased, but it seems that most of the galleries are focused on photographic art, but there are paintings and sculptures and even sometimes installations on show. You can find a lists of galleries, addresses as well as restaurants and other businesses in the building here, under ピラミデ.

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