Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hidden Tokyo

Those shadowy spaces beneath raised highways, train tracks and bridges are unexpectedly fascinating.

On a desperate search for an inkanya (seal maker) who could quickly make me a personal seal, so I could FINALLY open a bank account, I came across the less oshare side of Azabu Juban.

Tucked in beneath the cement roads of the Tokyo highway loop there is a little river, shadowed and green, surrounded by carpenters' workshops staffed by serious-looking men in split-toed boots. Nearby, a blue four-story apartment building and okonomiyaki restaurant, directly beneath the road.

Next door to the inkanya there is a furniture rental store which proclaims in three different languages (badly) that they infact only rent furniture. And as I walk (read: sprint) back towards my office, the bright flash of orange that is Tokyo Tower surprises me. It is a strangely shy landmark, hard to see in this area of high rises.

These places are not forgotten, but somehow diminished, perhaps from the shadows they live beneath. This is the Tokyo we usually only catch glimpses of, while speeding by on trains or riding taxis to the next appointment. These little enclaves that never get the full light of the sun, yet brightened by the red lanterns of an izakaya, bright blue rails of a bridge, the flashing signs of a tiny shoutengai and a playground filled with little dogs (and occasionally children). This is the Tokyo few will ever really know.

And, glowing near the river, a sign saying Label Cafe'... an adventure for another time.


  1. oooh i love exploring when im in tokyo. coming across these strange forgotten areas is so fun!! nice pictures, yes please check out the label cafe! you never know it could be the best!!

  2. I love the small neighborhoods! <3
    How did you get your inkan?? Was it with katakana?? I'm curious because I've never gotten one made :3
    I wish Osaka's tower looked as nice as Tokyo's.. it's really old and smelly inside D: lol

  3. Hello ladies!
    SM- I looked Label Cafe on the net, it looks amazing! totally going to go one of these days :)
    7iro- I indeed went with katakana (I had been using a silly one from the 100en store for years), and totally feel like a responsible adult (yeah, right ;p)

  4. I love finding cute cafes tucked away in places! If I had all the money in the world I would go to a new one everyday to do work or study or something. Sometimes it's sad to see really awesome places so hidden away tho, because what if no one goes to them? :<
    But still, since one of my silly little dreams is to own a cafe one day, it's nice to think that someone else out there got to live out their own :)

  5. Hi Indi, I totally have the same wish and worry, there is just too much to see and try ;p
    I often think it would be cool to have a cafe', but then i remember the rules of Japanese customer service and stop ;p

  6. Azabu Juban! The name rings a bell, but I can't for the life of me remember why. I love those small nooks in Tokyo, though, and I love reading about them! Should I spoil the fun for you and name one of my favorites? ;)

  7. Hi Kathleen, can't help ya there, but it may be because a lot of corporations have their offices here?
    And please do tell, I love recommendations!

  8. Ah, I love those little quiet nooks in Japan! It's something so different from the rush of the city that everyone expects from Japan, and for some reason it feels more like *real* Japan, to me. It's so cool that you get to see stuff that like and that you actually enjoy it! :)

    Oh my, you had to have a Hanko made?? Intense but super cool! I had no idea that foreigners needed them too! Glad it all worked out for you~ :)

    And P.S., that last picture of the Cafe looks like something straight out of a Ghibli movie! That's freaking wonderful!!!! ^3^

  9. Hi there Hana,
    totally agree with you there :) I am very confused as to why some people do not think Tokyo is the 'real Japan'.
    Anyone who works for a Japanese company will need hanko and meishi, they prove that you exist ;p

  10. Thanks for your comment! I subscribe to ya :)
    I work in Nishi azabu which is pretty near. I agree, though. Azabu jyuuban has some hidden areas that are always being disregarded. But the area that I work in is smelly and dirty and should be forgotten lol

  11. Hi Mon Ai :)
    Too sad about Nishi Azabu, haven"t been there yet!

  12. Possibly? I must have been there at some point. Wait!! Maybe it's the name of the subway station that has Smooch, the smoothie place I loved so much for carrying peanut butter-banana smoothies. Oddly enough, that might be it.

    Forgive me if you've mentioned this place; I haven't read every blog post, so I don't know. Nishi Nippori was one of my favorite spots when I was in Tokyo. It's a station on the Chiyoda line, and if you make the right choices in the labyrinth that is the Tokyo ground level, you will reach an area full of small shops, food stands, and so on. It has a wonderful ambiance, like you're in a secret, bustling alley. (Dare I mention Diagon Alley?) And a wonderful tea store is nestled there, if you're at all interested!

  13. I've heard that it is also land of fabric stores! Thanks for the tip, I shall go explore :)