Perhaps it is the lack of traffic, or its proximity to the adjacent business and entertainment quarters in Central, Tai Ping Shan Street in Poho is like no other residential street in Hong Kong. It has its dark history of the 1894 plague, and forgotten stories of the early Chinese migrant workers. It has its fair amount of heritage buildings, old temples, side street deadends and stone staircases to construct a certain kind of vintage and causal ambience. It could be precisely the unique and rich cultural history and the causal mood of the area that have attracted a diverse community to station in the area, making Tai Ping Shan Street the coolest neighborhood in Hong Kong. A few years ago, some travel magazines and websites put Sheung Wan as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods, and it was largely due to Tai Ping Shan Street in the district. The excitement of Tai Ping Shan Street originates from the influx of artists, designers, expats, and young residents who come to look for a more tranquil alternative to the nearby Soho. Gradually, it has become an interesting example of what Jane Jacobs would describes as a successful neighborhood focused on pedestrian permeability, mixed public uses, buildings of various ages, diversity of inhabitants, vibrancy of commercial and community activities, etc. While Teakha (trendy tea shop), Homey (family run cafe), Green Ginkgo Tea (Japanese lifestyle tea house), Frantzén’s Kitchen (Michelin recommended Nordic cuisine), Crit Room (sleek Italian cuisine), Reserva Iberica (ham shop), Espana Espana (Spanish fine dining), CRAFTISSIMO (international crafted beer), support a strong contemporary culinary scene, Fo Kee(科記), Yuk Kin(郁健) and Sun Bor Kee (新波記) continue to offer local fast food (street eatery) at street corners where neighbours and pet dogs mingle throughout the day. Art galleries, fashion boutiques, designer pop up shops, and hair stylists open their business just a few meters away from a cluster of the city’s oldest temples. The juxtaposition of the old and new, east and west, reveals the core spirit of what Hong Kong culture is all about. Apart from the exciting foodie scene and designer stores, Mount Zero Books has stood out in recent years as the hub that has brought the Poho community together. Situated at a dead end, the bookstore often organizes events right outside their door, fostering a strong community bonding. This is the bygone sense of community that has somehow disappeared in time as Hong Kong is being developed into a global financial hub. All the above excitement is miraculously packed in less than 200m of the one way street, forming some lovely streetscape that won’t be found anywhere else in Hong Kong.
But Tai Ping Shan Street wasn’t always about the stylish and trendy. Lying one street lower than Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan Street was once the densest neighborhood in the Victoria City during the 19th century. While the terraces around Po Hing Fong and U Lam Terrace were home to upper and middle class Chinese residents, Tai Ping Shan Street was cramped with shared housing for migrant workers arriving from Qing Imperial China seeking opportunities in Colonial Hong Kong. Most of them had families in Canton or beyond, and they hardly knew anyone when they first arrived. The Buddhist temples, especially Pak Shing Temple (百姓廟), served as the main community hub for these newcomers. Free meals and accommodation were provided for the sick. When one passed away, body of the deceased would be stored in the temple for later transport back to Mainland China, or for simple burial in the nearby Po Yan Street near the current Tung Wah Hospital. News of the poor living environment and dire treatment of the sick and dead circulated back to London, forcing the colonial government to support local charity groups to establish Tung Wah Hospital as the city’s first hospital in 1870 to treat the locals with Chinese medicine (as most Chinese refused to take Western medicine during that time). Then the plague came in 1894 and the government was determined to tackle the poor living conditions of Tai Ping Shan by clearing some buildings to make way for the Blake Garden, and building the city’s first public toilet and shower facility at Tai Ping Shan Street. The area was cleaned up as time went by, but among the older generations, Tai Ping Shan is still haunted by the memories of the sick and dead. Even today, coffin stores and funeral homes still exist around the area, reminding people its darker past despite its contemporary bohemian flair. Today, Tai Ping Shan remains as the rare location in the city where a pub or a hamburger eatery can coexist with a coffin store side by side. It is the juxtaposition of paradoxes and clashes of cultures that make Tai Ping Shan Street and the Poho area the coolest neighbourhood in Hong Kong.
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.
In Tokyo, it’s almost a ritual for every visitor to cross the iconic Shibuya(渋谷) Crossing on the way to a department store, or to search for cosplayers in the narrow Takeshita (竹下通) of Harajuku (原宿), or to admire the high fashion and sleek architecture along Omotesando (表参道). Despite it is only the distance of one station apart from each other, the urban scenery and shopping culture around the station of Shibuya, Harajuku and Omotesando are actually quite different. Geographically, Shibuya is a special ward in Tokyo that encompasses some of the most important commercial and shopping districts in the city, such as Daikanyama, Ebisu, Harajuku, Omotosando, and Sendagaya. Spending an afternoon wandering in this vibrant area is a movable feast of style.
Shibuya Hikarie (渋谷ヒカリエ), the iconic monument at the heart of Shibuya, is a mixed use high-rise tower with multiple functions, including office, theatre, auditorium, galleries and museum, dining facilities, and department store.
The railway station of Shibuya (渋谷) is the fourth busiest communter railway station in Japan (and the world).
Pedestrians rush out the Shibuya Station, wait for the traffic lights to turn and then scramble to radiate in all directions. The famous Shibuya Crossing has become an icon for Tokyo. Uncounted promotional videos, TV shows and movies such as Lost in Translation have made the Shibuya Crossing immortal as part of Tokyo’s identity.
A stop north of Shibuya (渋谷) along the Yamanote Line (山手線) brings us to Harajuku (原宿). Built in 1906, the timber structure of Harajuku is the oldest wooden railway station in Tokyo. Construction of a new station building is underway in time for 2020’s Tokyo Olympics. The fate of the original timber building has yet been determined.
Very popular with teenage shoppers, the pedestrian Takeshita Street (竹下通) is the destination to find cute merchandises aimed for the young generation.
Takeshita Street (竹下通) is full of cafes, eateries, small shops, and of course young shoppers.
The side streets in Harajuku (原宿) are lined with small shops and boutiques, each carries its own style of decorations and identity.
Made in Okayama, the small and cozy Full Count denim is one of my favorite shop in the area. They were the first Japanese denim company to use Zimbabwean cotton.
It was impossible not to revisit Omotesando (表参道) when I was in the area. Completed in 2004, SANAA’s Dior Omotesando (ディオール表参道店) looked as cool as ever. Last time I came in 2014 the building was covered in scaffolding.
Diagonally across Omotesando (表参道) from SANAA’s Dior, Tadao Ando’s Omotesando Hills, a long and narrow shopping centre, was flooded with a rainbow of LED lights.
Controversially, Ando’s Omotesando Hills in Aoyama (青山) has replaced the former Bauhaus inspired Dojunkai Aoyama Apartments built in 1927. A small section of the former apartment has been reconstructed as part of Omotesando Hills.
Cladded with a weaving system of aluminium, Takenaka’s Stella McCartney on Omotesando (表参道) is a small architectural gem across the street from Herzog de Meuron’s Prada.
Built in 2003, Herzog de Meuron’s Prada Aoyama (青山) is perhaps the most well known architecture on Omotesando (表参道) .
After over a decade, the glazing system of Herzog de Meuron’s Prada Aoyama (青山) still matches the essence of contemporary design.
Further into Aoyama, we reached the Spiral Building on Aoyama Dori. Completed in 1985, Fumihiko Maki’s building was named after its large spiral ramp. The complex houses a design shop and cafe, as well as exhibitions.
Sit against the window on the upper level of the Spiral Building and look at the urban scenery outside along Aoyama Dori is peaceful and relaxing.
The new star at Softbank Omotesando (ソフトバンク表参道) near Harajuku Station was the humanoid robots called Pepper.
In a sleek white appearance and the ability to interact with users, the Pepper humanoid robots were fun to play with. As population aging emerges as a huge issue in Japan, humanoid robots may soon become a household necessity in the future.