After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the East India Company’s annexation of Pegu province put Yangon into British hands. In 1885, the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulted in Britain’s complete annexation of Burma, and Rangoon (now Yangon) was named as the capital of Burma (now Yangon). From 1852 until Burma gaining independence in 1948, Rangoon saw major urban transformation under the British, with splendid colonial structures constructed all over the downtown. After independence, political and military turmoil among ethnic groups threatened the survival of the new nation, and then in 1962, a coup d’etat brought the nation into a 48-year military dictatorship until the first civilian elected president came to power in 2010. During the period of political turmoil and authoritarian rule, Yangon, together with much of Myanmar, was largely isolated from the outside world. Many colonial buildings from the British era were neglected and left for natural decay. Ironically, Yangon’s decades of lack of development led to the successful preservation of Southeast Asia’s largest concentration of colonial architecture. Recently, international investment began to pour in as the country gradually opened up. Some historical buildings had since then became redevelopment targets for foreign developers. Before heading north to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, we spent a brief time wandering around the lower downtown of Yangon to admire its awesome but fading colonial architecture.
Yangon City Hall, one the most prominent colonial building in the city, stands across the street from Sule Pagoda. Designed by Burmese architect U Tin and completed in 1940, the City Hall is a fine example of Burmese colonial architecture where local influence (in this case the multi-tiered pyatthat roof) has been incorporated into the otherwise largely Western design. The City Hall building exemplifies nationalist Burmese architecture at the twilight stage of colonial rule.
Across the street from the City Hall, the Ayeyarwady Bank occupies the former Rowe & Co. Department Store building. Completed in 1910, the Rowe & Co. Department Store was the most splendid shopping venue in Rangoon. This century-old building featured a innovative steel structural frame, electric lifts and ceiling fans over a century ago.
Across the street from the City Hall, the Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) has long been a public park at the heart of Yangon since 1868. While we were there, audience seating and a stage were set up for an upcoming event.
Also designed by Burmese architect U Tin, the Independent Monument at Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) was erected at the centre of the park in 1948 to commemorate the nation’s independence, replacing the former statue of Queen Victoria at the same location.
Flanking the east side of Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park), the former High Court is one of the most iconic buildings in Yangon. It was also one of the first in Yangon to have toilet and plumbing facilities as well as electricity. During the military rule, the Supreme Court was replaced by the socialist Council of People’s Justices controlled by the General. Today, Myanmar’s Supreme Court has been relocated to the new capital Naypyidaw.
Further south from Mahandoola Garden, at the intersection of Sule Pagoda Road and Strand Road stands the baby blue and white Myanmar Economic Bank building (formerly Bank of Bengal and then Imperial Bank of India). The Imperial Bank of India was the most prominent bank in colonial Burma, serving like the central bank for the nation.
The former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department were housed in a magnificent building with three octagonal towers. These former colonial departments oversaw taxes and trade customs for British Burma, which was belonged to the Government of British India.
Today, the building is in poor condition, especially for the wings along Bank Street and Mahabandoola Garden Street. Overgrown weeds took over parts of the building facade.
The building hasn’t changed much since the Japanese bombing in 1942.
This former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department building was partially occupied by Yangon Divisional Court and Department of Pensions nowadays.
Each of the octagonal towers houses a ornate spiral staircase.
The red-brick Customs House is one of the few historical buildings still serving its original functions today.
Since 1916, the two-faced clock has been the iconic feature of the Custom House.
Further down Strand Road, we arrived at Myanmar Port Authority (former Port Trust Office). The corner tower is an iconic landmark for the city, both for today and back in 1920s, when the new building was erected to reflect Rangoon as one of the busiest port in the British Empire.
Myanmar National Airlines occupies the 1920s building of the former Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation, whose diverse business included exporting teak wood. Right next door stood the splendid Strand Hotel, the 1901 glamorous hotel for affluent visitors in the early 20th century. In 1993, the hotel was fully renovated with a budget of USD 10 million.
The former National Bank of India building (now Myanma Agricultural Development Bank) was built in 1930. Designed by Thomas Oliphant Foster and Basil Ward, the same architects who had done the Myanmar Port Authority building, the beautiful entrance canopy and the golden entrance door remain as special features of Pansodan Road.
Written with “A Scott & Co” and “erected 1902” on the triangular pediment of today’s YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee) building, this colonial architecture had witnessed the era when Rangoon had a strong trading connections with Scotland.
Wandering in Downtown Yangon offered us a chance to see a number of the city’s finest colonial buildings in just a short walk. Throughout the walk, we passed by many anonymous buildings from the British era.
We planned to visit Secretariat (Ministers’ Building), the former administrative centre of British Burma and Yangon’s most important colonial building. On our way, we passed by several more interesting historical buildings. Unfortunately the Secretariat complex was not open to the public. We could barely see it from outside the fence, and decided to move on to Shwedagon Pagoda.
After lunch at 999 Shan Noodle House, we walked over to the City Hall. Across the street from the City Hall stood Sule Pagoda, the iconic octagonal stupa that marked the heart of Yangon. We decided to pay a quick visit to this wonderful monument before venturing further south.
Built in the 5th century BC, the 2600 year old was said to even predate the famous Shwedagon. The stupa was built in the style of Mon pagoda architecture, back in the era when the Mon people was a dominant ethnic group in the region. The Mon people was also responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia. The Mon name of Sule Pagoda is “kyaik athok ceti”, meaning “stupa with a sacred hair enshrined”. Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda contains one of Buddha’s hairs given to merchant Tapussa and Bhallika. The rest of the same strand of Buddha’s hairs were said to be kept at the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Before the British set out to develop Yangon and its port area, Sule Pagoda was situated on an island surrounded by a swamp at the banks of Yangon River. The British drained the area, constructed a prominent roundabout centred at the Pagoda and defined Sule as the heart of Downtown Rangoon (now Yangon). Today, Sule pagoda remains as an iconic spot of the city, and has served as the centre stage of civilian rallies and demonstrations throughout the years.
We crossed the street from the City Hall to the east entrance of the Sule Pagoda.
At the entrance, we followed the rules and took off our shoes and socks, left them with one of the staff, purchased admission tickets and then climbed up the stairs to the main worshiping area. This was our first experience of walking barefoot in Myanmar.
The first thing we saw beyond the stair was a cosy and golden altar with many pilgrims.
Outside of the covered altar was a series of small golden shrine surrounding the base of the octagonal pagoda. It’s important for the Burmese to know which day of the week they were born in order to find the right shrine to worship. There are eight planetary shrines around the pagoda, each represents a planet as well as a particular day of the week, with Wednesday split into two (am and pm).
Water and food can be found at the pagoda complex, usually donated by Buddhist worshipers, who believe good deeds are one of the basis for path of enlightenment.
Soon we reached another entrance of the Sule Pagoda. Entrances of the pagoda are arranged at the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west.
The corresponded altar of this entrance looked somewhat different than the one we first arrived at.
Like all shrines in Myanmar, gold is the single dominant colour of the octagonal Sule Pagoda.
At the Saturday shrine, another two worshipers were busy performing rituals and cleaning the altar with water.
Under the scorching sun, many worshipers stayed at the shaded area to mediate. It was interesting to see many young people were among the devoted worshipers.
When looking closely, the fine details and craftsmanship of the golden ornaments were overwhelmingly impressive.
At another entrance altar, colourful fresco depicted a number of Buddhist stories high up near the ceiling.
Each of the four altars has a distinct set of ornaments.
Other than the devoted worshippers, some locals were just hanging around in the pagoda area as if the space was a public park. In fact, Buddhist shrines in Myanmar do serve as community spaces that welcome everyone.
It was relaxing to walk on bare feet around the Sule Pagoda. Surprising we didn’t feel uncomfortable without our shoes and socks.
Near the entrance where we arrived, there was a group of people gathered at a pulley wire, waiting for the staff to send their prayer cards up to the pagoda by the golden prayer boat.
Via a wire pulley system, the golden prayer boat sends prayer cards of worshippers up to the pagoda.
A staff at the base worked the pulley to send up the prayer boat while a group of worshipers gathered to witness the process.
After one loop, we repeated the clockwise stroll around the Sule Pagoda for a second time.
After two loops around the pagoda, we walked down the stair where we first arrived, put on our shoes, and moved on to further explore Downtown Yangon.
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, was the capital city of Myanmar (Burma) until 2006. With 7 million inhabitants, Yangon remains as the largest city in Myanmar. Because of our tight schedule, we only had a day to explore the downtown where decaying colonial buildings from the British era mingled with bustling daily activities of the locals, and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the religious heart and biggest tourist draw of the city. Before that, we decided to first get a taste of the Burmese culture through sampling the local cuisine. We weren’t particularly hungry, but would want to try out a well known noodle shop: 999 Shan Noodle House. It was a half-hour walk to the noodle shop. What’s better to get a quick Yangon impression than wandering its lively streets?
Venturing out of the Loft Hotel, we headed east towards the north-south thoroughfare Alan Pya Pagoda Street. Local shops lined along one side of the street, while the opposite side was dominated by the large Park Royal Hotel.
One of the first building we encountered on Alan Pya Pagoda Street was Thamada (President) Cinema and Hotel. Opened its door in 1958, Thamada was Rangoon’s most prominent cinema with a fully air-conditioned hall and a great example of the cuty’s Modernist architecture.
A number of snack vending carts were stationed in front of Thamada Cinema.
Other than skewers or salad, fruit is also common snacks in Yangon.
Renovated a few years ago, Thamada Cinema remains as a popular cinema in the present, drawing sell out shows from time to time.
Further down the road we reached the intersection of Sakura Tower. Built in 1999, Sakura is a 20 storey building built by Japanese investors and architects. It offers office spaces up to international standards, with a restaurant at the top floor. While the top floors struggled to find tenants in the first several years, Sakura is now totally full as Myanmar opens up in recent years.
Next to Sakura Tower, the 1910 Bible Society of Myanmar (British and Foreign Bible Society) was the heart of Christian evangelical society in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, the foreign missionaries were expelled from the country, and was restructured in 1964 under national organization.
The strip of Bogyoke Road at Sakura Tower was known as Rangoon’s “Cinema Row” in the past, a designated entertainment district. The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre with its iconic patterned facade was built in 1961. Movie was and still remains big in Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The modernist patterned facade was popular back in late 1950s and early 1960s in Southeast Asia.
Further down we reached a busy intersection of Sule Road and Anawratha Road where a network of pedestrian overpass allowed us to gain a raised overview of this part of Downtown Yangon.
The overpass was occupied with vendors. Pedestrians loved to stop by the railing for a look at the changing surrounding skyline. Looking north, the top of Sakura Tower perched over the tree crown in the middle, and the Sule Shangri-La (Trader Hotel) dominates the the left side with its 500 rooms. Built by Japanese and Singaporean architects, the hotel never really fulfilled its tourist potentials due to the West’s boycott on the junta government. Rooms were sold at discounted prices. interestingly, it did attract a number of NGOs and UN agencies to set ups their offices here, and so as foreign journalists and some tourists.
At the southwest corner of the pedestrian overpass, a new 20 storey office building was under construction.
Further south we could see one of the city’s most important monument, the Sule Pagoda. It is known to be one of the oldest monument site in Yangon, some said around 2600 years old. Sule Pagoda has been and still is considered to be the heart of Downtown Yangon.
After a moment above the streets, it was time for us to return to the busy street scenes.
As we approached 999 Shan Noodle House, we began to explore the network of small side streets behind Yangon City Hall.
All side streets were flanked by buildings dated back to British Rangoon.
It took us several minutes to reach the right side street of the noodle house. It was fortunate that we had portable wifi device and mobile phone which we could get on Google Map.
Food vendors could be seen on many of these side streets. Groups of children monks were also a common sight.
After a little over half an hour of walk, we finally reached our destination – 999 Shan Noodle House. 999 is a famous restaurant in Yangon specialized in dishes from the Shan and Kachin States at Northern Myanmar. These states border with Yunnan Province of China, which is also popular with rice noodle dishes.
The pig knuckle noodle soup was tasty, and the pork texture was just right.
Stir fry rice noodle with local spices was also a popular dish at 999 Shan Noodle House.
After lunch, we continued to walk down the side street towards Yangon City Hall.
At the end of the street we again passed by a food vendor. They seemed to be everywhere in Downtown Yangon, especially at the end of side streets.
We arrived at the central gate of the Potala at around 9am. We excitedly looked up at the magnificent icon of Lhasa as we entered the palace ground beyond the first security checkpoint. We found our way towards the main ramp that ascend up to the Potala. Before climbing up, we made a brief stop at a small museum that housed a decent collection of treasures from the palace. Despite its interesting exhibit, we didn’t stay long as we wouldn’t want to miss our time slot for the palace visit. The walk up the main ramp looked easier than it actually was. Because of the 3700m altitude, the climb up the main ramp to the Potala may prove challenging to many tourists who haven’t completely acclimatized to the Tibetan highlands. We took our time walking up to the ticket office near the top palace level. After all the effort of pre-booking and climbing, we finally got a real admission ticket for the Potala. A flight of steps led us up a colourful passage to a open courtyard known as Deyang Shar. After a brief break at Deyang Shar, we walk to the far side of the courtyard and followed other tourists and tour guides up a small set of triple stairs into the White Palace. The Deyang Shar was the final spot of our visit that we were allowed to take photographs.
The first room we arrived at was the throne room of the Dalai Lamas. Walking into the former throne room felt like entering into a scene of Scorsese’s movie Kundun. The visit continued to a series of Dalai Lamas’ former reception rooms, meditation room, study room, etc. After the Dalai Lama’s living quarter in the White Palace, we continued our visit to the Red Palace from the top (3rd floor) down. On our way down the floors and through the chapels and assembly halls, we passed by impressive statues, golden chortens of former Dalai Lamas, mysterious chapels such as Chapel Arya, one of the oldest structures in the Potala built by King Songtsen Gampo. If not the noisy tourists and their rude tour guides were virtually everywhere in the visitor route, our Potala visit would be much more pleasant. One of the highlights was the 12.6m chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama. Gilded with 3.7 kg of gold, the chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama was significantly larger than the other chortens displayed in Chapel of the Holy Born.
In 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo erected his royal palace on the Marpo Ri (Red Hill). A thousand years later, construction of the Potala’s White Palace (Kharpo Podrang) began in 1645 under the order of the 5th Dalai Lama. In late 17th century, the larger Red Palace (Marpo Podrang) was also built to house the funeral chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama. Since then, the Potala has become the residence and final resting place of the Dalai Lamas. In modern days, the Potala was largely spared from the destructing forces of the Red Army during the Cultural Revolution. Extensive renovations took place in the 1990s to restore the palace. Since then, the Potala has been turned into an open air museum that attracts thousands of visitors everyday.
The palace visit took us about 2 hours. We exited the Potala from its back entrance. A prominent walkway zigzagged down the Marpo Ri, leading us to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala. We followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace. Large groups of park users were dancing at different open areas in the park under loud music. We strolled for a bit in the park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery for lunch.
Unlike the mysterious night scene, the morning view of the Potala was splendid and elegant.
During our visit, we only had access to small parts of the White and Red Palace.
Despite the access and photography restrictions, a visit to the Potala is still a must-do for most tourists in Lhasa.
To reach the ticket office of the Potala, walking up the main ramp is the second major challenge for many tourists (the first challenge being getting up early to queue for the pre-booking.
From the main ramp, we could clearly see the Potala Square (布達拉宮廣場) beyond Beijing Road.
After an exhausting climb to the top, we finally reached the entrance gate and the ticket office.
From the entrance gate, we could see the beautiful landscape outside of the city of Lhasa.
The mural of the heavenly guards and other mythical figures caught the attention of every visitors passed through the entrance gate.
The entrance door was beautifully decorated with colourful details.
After the entrance gate, we passed through a flight of colourful stair up to the entrance courtyard of the White Palace called Deyang Shar.
The Deyang Shar is a pleasant courtyard that serves as the entrance for the White Palace, and the courtyard is also the last spot where visitors are allowed to take photographs during their Potala visit.
The visit of the Potala for all tourists begins with the White Palace.
At the Deyang Shar, groups of tourists began their palace visit via a steep stair.
After the visit we exited the Potala at the back side of the palace.
We walked down a pleasant walkway down the Marpo Ri.
The walkway led us down to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala.
Along the kora path there were small shrines for pilgrims.
Near the Zongjiao Lukang Park, we passed by a popular shrine frequented by pilgrims.
We followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace.
We strolled for a bit in Zongjiao Lukang Park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery nearby for lunch.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet
After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo. We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国). Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall). We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right. From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.
The Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).
Sejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood. The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.
The building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.
The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.
The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.
Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.
We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.
The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.
The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.
The angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.
The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.
Beside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.
The exhibition space is not big. Most of his paintings are hung along the wall. Artifacts such as books and sketches.
The most famous works by Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei). A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.
Some of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.
A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.
Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.
We both felt asleep on the train back to Tokyo. The normally popular tourist district of Asakusa (浅草) was largely deserted by the time we walked out Asakusa Station at around 9pm. We didn’t want to return to our hotel yet. We decided to wander around Asakusa, from the world famous Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) to the inner streets of dining, shopping and entertainment district of Rokku. Most shops were closed except for some restaurants and street eateries.
The buildings and streetscape around Tobu Asakusa Station reveal the former glory of Asakusa when the district was a foremost area in Tokyo.
Tokyo Skytree and Philippe Starck’s Asahi Beer Hall stood out in the skyline beyond.
Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa Culture and Tourist Centre (淺草文化中心) took on a different appearance under the perfect illumination.
Surrounded by scaffolding, the Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) found a moment of peace with the absence of tourists.
The 200m Nakamise (仲見世) Shopping Street closed for the night. Security guards were checking the shopping streets to ensure no visitor stayed behind.
From Nakamise (仲見世), we entered a side street (雷門柳小路) into the grid network of small streets of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Orange Street (オレンジ通り), a street famous for its orange paint lies at the centre of the dining and entertainment area of Asakusa.
The Rokku area of Asakusa was once the biggest entertainment district in Japan before WWII. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Asakusa lies outside the city wall and was a red light and theatre district. During the prewar years of the 20th century, theatres and cinemas dominated the Rokku area. Much of Asakusa was destroyed during the war. Today, the entertainment district of Asakusa was only a shadow of its past.
Some restaurants in the area still maintains the atmosphere of the prewar days.
In contrast to the spirituality and history of Sensoji Temple just a few blocks away, the Rox Dome is a popular indoor batting stadium.
The atmospheric Dempoin Dori (傳法院通) offers a glimpse of the former theatre and entertainment district.
Not many pedestrians were around at Dempoin Dori. However some of the restaurants were still open. The traditional shopfronts reminded visitors the appearance of the lively high street during the prewar years.
Despite its decline in the postwar years, Asakusa remains an interesting place to stroll around and get a feel of Tokyo’s history and its vibrant dining scenes.
Today, the Rokku area is still a focus of dining and entertainment experience, with outdoor eateries here and there near the junction of Don Quijote Department Store.
Most shops were closed for the night, but the street-side eateries were still quite lively when we were there.
The junction in front of Don Quijote Department Store was brightly lit up by neon lights of theatres and shops.
Apart from the street eateries and traditional shops, there are also covered arcades in the area providing another alternative shopping experience.
After strolling for an hour or so, we headed back to Asakusa Station and took the metro back to Shibuya. Passing by the narrow alleyways near the station, the Tokyo Skytree across Sumida River could be clearly seen at the street end, revealing a new chapter of shopping and entertainment just a stone throw away from Asakusa.
Only 15 minutes of walk separates Nakameguro (中目黒) and Daikanyama (代官山), two pleasant residential neighborhoods close to Shibuya and Ebisu. Last year in 2016, I made my first visit to Daikanyama, and was immediately captivated by its elegance as an upscale residential and shopping area. This time, we ventured further south towards Meguro River into the neighborhood of Nakameguro. While Nakameguro is not as established as Daikanyama, its charm as a hip and lovely residential and shopping area has become quite well known to both the locals and foreign visitors. Our stroll in Nakameguro and Daikanyama began at Higashi-yama Restaurant, where we had a fine lunch. Then we found our way to the Meguro River, a canal like waterway that used to be an awful stream filled with industrial waste before the 1980s. The fate of Nakameguro changed its course after the government cleaned up the river in the late 1980s. Since then the first group of hipsters moved in, and soon trendy cafes, boutiques and residential developments mushroomed along the Meguro River, and gradually transformed the area into one of the most desirable residential neighborhood in Tokyo. We walked along the river and stopped by a number of shops, before heading over to Sarugakucho (猿楽町) of Daikanyama for a revisit of the magnificent T-Site and the nearby boutiques. Literally means “monkey fun town”, Sarugakucho of Daikanyama is a popular spot in Tokyo simply to enjoy life: unique fashion boutiques, coffee shops, bookstores, hair salons, organic vendors, furniture and design shops, etc.
The Meguro River seems like a canal with peaceful and clear water.
As the government cleaned up Meguro River, the character of Nakameguro was completely transformed into a pleasant residential neighborhood and a concentration of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants.
Many shops along Meguro River are catered to serve the immediate community of local residents, such as hair salons.
Or local eateries…
Considered as one of the star attractions in the area, COW Books in Nakameguro has a charming collection of rare and out-of-print books.
Blue Blue, a unique clothing store owned by Seilin & Co. Hollywood Ranch Market selling a wide range of garments that combines traditional indigo dyeing and contemporary fashion.
Over at Daikanyama, shops are more concentrated in a clusters of narrow streets of Sarugakucho near T-Site, the famous Tsutaya Bookstore and its garden of shops. UES Jeans is a small boutique that sells high quality denim. They believe a garment should be fully used till the end of the product’s life. The name “UES” is derived from the word “waste”, with reference to the Japanese habit of reusing old clothes for dust cloths at the end of the garment’s life.
Designed by architect Akihisa Hirata in 2007, Sarugaku is a cluster of six commercial blocks surrounding a valley-like courtyard in a narrow site.
At Sarugakucho, we couldn’t resist to check out Okura (オクラ), one of the most popular boutiques in the area. Under the same mother company as Nakameguro’s Blue Blue, Okura is renowned for their garments that perfectly combine traditional indigo dyeing and tailor techniques with contemporary fashion trends and functions.
Maison Kitsune is another unique boutique in Sarugakucho. Maison Kitsune represents a success story of international collaboration. It is founded by French electornic musician Gildas Loaec and Japanese architect Masaya Kuroki, in an attempt to create a brand under the intertwining influences of music and fashion. “Kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox”, representing a character of versatility and the power of changing appearance.
Our brief afternoon walk of Daikanyama ended at the T-Site, the garden retail complex behind Tsutaya Bookstore.
Other than Tsutaya Bookstore, the stylish restaurant Ivy Place is the main focus in the T-Site.
At the T-Site, the primary attraction is definitely the Tsutaya Bookstore. It was our second time to visit this beautiful bookstore. Similar to my first visit a year ago, we were delighted to find that every corner of the complex was enjoyed by customers of all sorts.
To us, Tsutaya and the T-Site represents an ideal venue to spend a Sunday afternoon.
It was getting dark as we left Daikanyama. We leisurely walked back to our hotel in Shibuya to take a little break before dinner.