The sky was grey on our last day in Tokyo. We decided to spend the morning at nearby Harajuku (原宿). We moved our suitcase and backpack to the lockers in Shibuya Station (渋谷), and then took the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) one stop over to Harajuku. Despite we had been to Harajuku a few times, we had never ventured beyond the shopping and entertainment areas. This time, we decided to spend a peaceful morning at Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), the Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the insightful leader who modernized Japan at the end of the 19th century. Built in 1920, the original shrine complex was destroyed during World War Two. The shrine was rebuilt soon after the war. We had seen photographs of the large and lovely torii gates at the forested path of Meiji Shrine. It was interesting to see such massive and traditional wooden structures surrounded by mature trees at the heart of Tokyo, just a stone throw away from all the neon lights of youthful Takeshita Street (竹下通り) and fashionable Omotesandō (表参道). While we were there, some buildings were under renovations for its 100th anniversary in 2020. We took our time to walk around the compound, wrote down our wishes on an ema (wooden plate to hang at the shrine), and enjoyed a peaceful walk in the urban forest.
Before heading back to Shibuya for the Narita Express, we dropped by the roof garden of Tokyu Plaza for breakfast. Most shops had yet opened their doors in Harajuku, and we had another quiet moment in an urban oasis. By the time we returned to Shibuya to pick up our luggage, it finally started to rain. The rain lasted for the entire afternoon. It was still raining heavily when our plane took off at the runway of Narita later that day.
There are a few locker areas at Shibuya Station. We almost went to a wrong locker area to pick up our luggage. Luckily, when we left our luggage we took a photo of the locker area to remind ourselves, and that proved handy at the end.
The timber structure of Harajuku Station is unique in Tokyo. Hopefully this historical building can survive the massive redevelopment of the area prior to the Olympic Games.
We loved the massive torii gate of Meiji Jingu. The natural finish matches perfectly with the surrounding forest.
Sake offering at the Meiji Jingu.
The second large torii gate midway into the path of Meiji Jingu.
Quite a number of buildings at Meiji Jingu were under renovation for 2020.
There were a lot of visitors at the early hours of the day.
The natural appearance of a Japanese timber structure offers the best harmony with the surrounding nature.
Writing the Ema (wooden prayer plates) is always fun.
After hanging our ema, we bid farewell to the peaceful Meiji Jingu.
Time was still early when we walked to Tokyu Plaza. Since the shopping centre had yet opened its doors, we found our way up to the roof garden via an elevator at the side.
The roof garden of Tokyu Plaza is always a great place to hang out. While some were having breakfast like us, there were a few dozing off at the far corners.
Not many visitors were around. We could admire the interesting design of the decking.
Looking down to the intersection of Omotesando and Meiji Jingumae, the popular crossing were almost empty of pedestrians.
The rain hadn’t arrived yet, and we had a relaxing breakfast at the roof garden.
Perched above the northeast intersection of Meiji Dori (明治道り) and Omotesando Dori (表参道), a charming little oasis is hidden atop the shopping centre Tokyu Plaza. From street level, the gleaming mall entrance resembles a giant kaleidoscope with a myriad of mirrors wrapping a set of grand escalators and stair, like a glittering passageway heading up into the building. Looking overhead, clusters of greenery stick out from the roof parapet, revealing the lovely rooftop terrace above the shopping levels. What the local design firm Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP gives visitors is a pleasant surprise on the roof, a little roof garden of trees and plantings, seating and stepped platforms, overlooking the busy urban streets at the heart of Harajuku (原宿).
The kaleidoscope-like mall entrance is a decent design to capture the attention of pedestrians.
It’s fun to go through the kaleidoscope-like passageway. Looking out of the entrance feels like standing inside a cave made of mirrors.
The intersection of Meiji Dori (明治道り) and Omotesando Dori (表参道) is busy anytime throughout the day.
After going through the shopping levels, a wooden stairway leads up to the top level of restaurants and cafe, and the lovely roof terrace.
At the roof terrace, a hexagonal decking system provide great seating for shoppers and cafe customers.
After a long day of shopping and walking, many visitors choose to take a brief stop at this pleasant roof terrace at the top of Tokyu Plaza.
In the middle, a raised planter surrounded by a counter and high chairs is actually part of the skylight providing natural light for the level below.
The decking and the roof terrace can also serve as a small performance venue.
From the relaxing rooftop, the busy street scene below seems like a distant world. While pedestrians rush across the streets, visitors of the roof terrace rest in harmony with a manmade nature several storeys above.
34 trees and 50+ different types of plants are planted on the terrace on what architect Hiroshi Nakamura describes as a “roof forest”.
At the lower levels, smaller balconies also provide spaces for relaxation with a close encounter with the zelkova trees that line the sidewalk of Omotesandō (表参道), the traditional procession route of Meiji Shrine (明治神宮).
From the street, the Tokyu Plaza Omotesandō look like an interesting piece of modern architecture with a light and transparent base and a solid upper part that supports the greenery at the top.
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.
Strolling along the small streets in Harajuku and Aoyama offers quite a different experience than checking out the buildings by star architects along Omotesando. Just a stone throw away, the neighborhoods behind the high street are indeed full of surprises. With interesting fashion boutiques, accessory shops, and hair salons, these tranquil and tidy backstreets provide a different sense of urban beauty. It is a place of intimate scale, and a crossover of avant-garde styles and domestic living. Every house is unique. Every shop has its own character.
We stopped on the street countless times captivated by the neat streetscape created by the unique architecture. Building massing, facade treatment, and architectural detailing come together in an harmonious way.
Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, Watari Museum of Contempory Art was built in 1990. We went in and saw an exhibition on Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The exhibition occupied 3 levels of the museum, presenting the life of Isozaki when he is not doing architecture. An one to one scale tree house designed by Isozaki was reconstructed as the centerpiece of the exhibition. We loved to use the outdoor staircase to move up and down the building while touring the exhibition.
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Read other posts on 2014 Tokyo:
1. Tokyo 2014 (Introduction)
2. Yokohama Osanbashi Pier
3. Ginza, Tokyo
4. Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo
5. Omotesando, Tokyo
6. Harajuku & Aoyama, Tokyo
7. Nezu Museum, Tokyo
8. Roppongi Hills, Tokyo
9. The National Art Centre, Tokyo
10. Midtown, Tokyo
11. A Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo
12. Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Tokyo
13. A Night in Yanaka, Tokyo
14. Breakfast at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo
15. Moveable Feast, Tokyo
16. Seasonal Fruits, Tokyo
17. Afterthought, Tokyo