Sunday, December 4, 2011

Azabu Juban

The Hiroo/Azabu Juban area is a strange and fascinating little corner of Tokyo, a mish-mash of winding streets and faded turquoise bridges, mixing all that is extremely new, shiny and expensive with the old, charmingly run down little buildings of a shitamachi.

On my 15 minute walk to work from the station, I always pass the ladies of leisure of Hiroo (no doubt wives of embassy employees) who lounge in the Illy Cafe' sipping extremely expensive coffee in their workout gear. Continuing on, I sometimes take the long route through an oddly vertical park, saying hello to the statue of General Whoever on his copper horse.

On a sunny fall morning it is a lovely walk, passing either by several embassies (including the rather impressive Algerian one), or the blocked-off portal to a shrine. Getting closer to my office I turn into smaller streets with beautiful feats of modern architecture, scented by both a nearby tatami-maker and temple (the smell of incense on the wind means a funeral). A little design shop pops up, filled with iron and house goods, housed inside an old office building.

And this is only the beginning. Closer to Azabu Juban station there are a zillion restaurants, from little more than smoky shacks to fine dining so exclusive they only have a sign, and no menu. A completely unimpressive front houses the best soba in the city, surrounded by patisseries and sweets shops at every corner, including the famous Dolce Tokyo.

It is a joy to wander about, under the bright blue, cloudless sky, happily tucked into one of my many coats. On my short walks around the neighbourhood (which I do instead of taking time off for lunch) I find more curios. A vegetable shop, with unbelievably cheap prices, considering the area. A French restaurant, Molleaux, with only 4 tiny tables. A temple with a plaque to Townsend, under a gloriously tall gold and yellow tree. And as the day winds down, from the nearby elementary school comes half a minute of ethereal music, chiming and sad,to notify the closing of the school gates. I still have two hours of work to go, but it is a signal. Soon my time will be my own again.

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