Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods (3/3)

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Redevelopment is a common sight in many of Tokyo's neighbourhoods.
Redevelopment is a common sight in many of Tokyo's neighbourhoods.
In the part 1 and part 2 of this series, we explored several of Tokyo’s neighbourhoods, including: Aoyama, Ginza, Kagurazaka, Odaiba, Omotesando, Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shimbashi. It is interesting that many of them are currently undergoing significant redevelopment. Most have been part of long-term urban redevelopment projects. But they have only recently picked up speed in part because of the impending arrival of Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics.

Many of those are controversial, like the developments in Shimokitazawa and the Tsukiji Market. And others that are not being redeveloped, like Shijuku’s Golden Gai, are also facing rising external pressure to reorganize. Regardless of the outcome, it is certain that these places will experience major cultural and physical changes in the coming decade. So it is wise to visit them soon. To end this series, we will look at six more neighbourhoods, starting at Shimokitazawa.

Shimokitazawa

One thing that is notably missing in Shimokitazawa is the presence of salarymen. That is not to suggest it being lofty. In place of this void is an alluring mixture of bohemian individuality and countryside inelegance. A few stations west of Shibuya Station, Shimokitazawa is slightly removed from the centre of action. It is a place where one feels the calm not present in the restrained and hectic city centres.

Although being tucked away from the insanity of the glitz, Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita for short, does not lack its own happenings. Its streets are filled with students, artists, and visitors, generally of a younger crowd. The narrow streets with restricted vehicular access help to keep large retail chains from swallowing up its small independent shops.

And so this neighbourhood is concentrated with vintage shops, stage theatres, and a vibrant indie music scene. This, as well as the friendliness of its people, lend a beautiful atmosphere different from the usual Tokyo people come to expect.

All of this charm, however, is facing imminent change as there is an ongoing redevelopment project to reorganize the convoluted streets and to construct high rise complexes in the area. While some residents welcome change and see it as a progress to the general well-being of the place, many believe that the plan has tolled the death knell for the neighbourhood and its offbeat personality they so cherish.

Regardless of who ultimately wins the debate, this redevelopment has already been underway. And even though the small streets nearby the development sites are still without car traffic, the consensus is that it will not be like this for long. It really is just a matter of time before traffic becomes denser with commercial activities picking up from the nearby office towers.

The Shimokitazawa that people are so fond of will become a memory of the past. In its place will be a newer layout congruent to its neighbours. Visit this place before it is too late. Read more about Shimokitazawa here.

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Shimokitazawa streets are filled with students, artists, and visitors, generally of a younger crowd. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Shimokitazawa is concentrated with vintage shops and izakayas like this one. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A vintage shop in Shimokitazawa. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Cranes and claw machines are popular pastimes among younger Japanese students. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A nabe (hot pot) restaurant in a repurposed residential low-rise in Shimokitazawa.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku, despite having been demolished by Godzilla many times over, remains the largest district of Tokyo. The area boasts a population of over 300,000 people, which is really a small city in and of itself.

The western part of Shinjuku lies in a seismically stable area and is therefore home to Tokyo’s largest concentration of skyscrapers. Among those skyscraper is a magnificent structure in resemblance to a Gothic cathedral, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

In close proximity to the city hall is Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest train station seeing over 3.6 million passengers every day. With 36 platforms and over 200 exits, it is safe to assume that everyone who has been in the station has been lost for once at the very least.

To the east of Shinjuku Station is Shinjuku’s shopping and entertainment area. It is there that we find Golden Gai, a small block of six alleys that hosts over 200 tiny bars and eateries. The bars provide a cozy environment to build relationships with owners and regulars.

Adjacent to Golden Gai is Kabukicho, Asia’s largest red light district. It was tightly controlled by the yakuza and has recently seen its influence fading as Tokyo prepares itself for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Shinjuku is a gigantic urban jungle that has captured the fascination of so many, including film makers like Derek Yee (Shinjuku Incident). Within its never-ending panels of blinding neon lies the giant engine that tirelessly drives Tokyo’s economic ship forward, day and night.

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. The western part of Shinjuku lies in a seismically stable area and is therefore home to Tokyo’s largest concentration of skyscrapers. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a magnificent structure in resemblance to a Gothic cathedral. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Western Shinjuku is home to the administration buildings of the Tokyo government. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A dining and shopping area of Shinjuku. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Shinjuku food district on a slow day. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Tokyo's Golden Gai in Shinjuku, an area of concentrated bars and eateries.

Shiodome

Shiodome, once part of Shimbashi, is a financial district recently redeveloped under the direction of the Tokyo government. After decades of reconstruction, the new Shiodome opened its door to the public in 2002. With its thirteen new commercial skyscrapers and various infrastructures, it is now the most modern area of Tokyo.

This stands in stark contrast with its predecessor and neighbour, Shimbashi. While Shimbashi still retains that salaryman grit, Shiodome’s super skyscrapers and modern facade loom large in the back of Shimbashi’s rusty train tracks and storefronts.

This newly designed district is most impressive when viewed from the Yurikamome metro line departing from Shiodome Station. The train track is surrounded by a magnificent canyon of glass skyscrapers. Pedestrian and motorized traffic are separated into multiple levels with elevated walkways connecting between the megastructures.

Huge glass panels flank the sides of the walkways, with trees planted to add a touch of warmth to its largely glass and steel structure. The area is spacious and exquisitely frosty. It feels like a scene from a futuristic urban utopia; Karyn Kusama’s Æon Flux comes to mind.

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Pedestrian and motorized traffic are separated into multiple levels with elevated walkways connecting between the megastructures. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. With its thirteen new commercial skyscrapers and various infrastructures, Shiodome is now the most modern urban centre of Tokyo. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. After decades of planning and reconstruction, the new Shiodome finally opened its door to the public in 2002. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Beautifully decorated columns inside Shiodome's semi-underground walkaway. This walkway serves to connect the surrounding skyscrapers and train stations of Shiodome. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Shiodome's modern skyscrapers at night. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Winter illuminations in front of Shiodome's Caretta building.

Toranomon

Toranomon, or “Tiger’s Gate,” is an area directly south of the Imperial Palace. Being on a relative high ground with a location considered to be of good fortune, Toranomon has always been an exclusive location since Edo period. Its land price, too, reflect such exclusivity by being one of the highest in Tokyo.
 Toranomon is comprised mainly of residential high rises at core and commercial towers on the outskirts. They are punctuated by streets with more traditional low- and mid-rises. Walking in one of those streets, one notices interesting contrasts, such as an old single-story house surrounded by high risings on all sides.

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A hilly street in Toranomon, Tokyo. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A traditional low-rise amid the modern high rises of Toranomon. Many of these smaller houses sit on incredibly expensive real estate value. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. The commercial outskirts of Toranomon's residential core. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Commercial high rise in the outskirt of Toranomon.

Tsukiji

Tsukiji is often synonymous to its market, the Tsukiji Fish Market, located along the edge of the Sumida River. It is the biggest wholesale fish market in the world, handling over 700,000 metric tons of seafood with a total value of 5.9 billion USD in 2013. The market itself is divided into two sections, the inner market and the outer market.

The inner market is where licensed wholesale dealers operate small stalls and where daily tuna auctions take place. These aunctions usually garner the most media attention during the first bidding day of a new year. In 2013, the New Year bidding war was won by restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura, who paid a lofty sum of roughly 1.5 million USD for a 222 kilogram bluefin tuna.

Of course, this is publicity and the result of a rivalry between Kimura and other non-Japanese chains. A year after, Kimura’s winning bid cost him only $70,000 USD for a bluefin with similar weight.

After the busy morning hours, the spotlight shifts to the outer market, where seafood shops prepare for the influx of visitors. It is here that people gather for the fresh catch of the day, from seaweeds to whales and bluefin tuna.

Such distribution and consumption is often criticized by international observers as bluefin tuna and whales are endangered species threatened by overfishing. Still, given the importance of its tuna economy (Japan consumes about 80% of world’s bluefin tuna catch), it is unlikely that the trade is going to diminish any time soon.

2016 marks a special year for Tsukiji’s 80-year-old fish market, as it will be the last year it operates at the current location. Citing sanitary and traffic concern, the government will relocate the market to a climate-controlled facility on the nearby Toyosu Island. Tsukiji’s future development remains uncertain as it heads into a new beginning.

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Tsukiji is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, handling over 700,000 metric tons of seafood annually with a total value of approximately 5.9 billion USD in 2013. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. The yellow mini trucks are found everywhere in Tsukiji. They are used to transport goods within the complex. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. The inner market is where seafood is processed and packaged for shipment. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Seafood stalls in the outer section of Tsukiji Market. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Long queues are a constant scene amongst the more well-known sushi shops in Tsukiji Market. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. The outskirt of Tsukiji's outer market is lined with food stalls.

Yurakucho

Yurakucho is known for its outdoor izakaya restaurants underneath the JR Yamanote Line train tracks. Like Shimbashi, Yurakucho is rugged and laid back. It is one of the few places that still retains its traditional facade dating from Tokyo’s early post World War II period. Those traditional eateries provide a more down-to-earth alternative to its neighbour Ginza, and is a favourite among Japanese salarymen.
Yurakucho really comes to live on weeknight evenings when workers get off work to socialize over beer and yakitori (skewered chicken). Being walking distance to the train stations is helpful, as many needs to catch that last train back home, which is between 12:00 to 1:00 a.m., depending on train line. This is when everyone needs to disappear fast or risk sleeping in a capsule hotel (or swallow up a costly taxi fare).

Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Yurakucho's traditional eating establishments provide a more down-to-earth alternative to its neighbour Ginza, and is a favorite among Japanese salarymen. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Yurakucho's nightlife surrounds the JR Yamanote Line train track. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. A more modernized section of Yurakucho's under-the-bridge nightlife. Tokyo: 14 Neighbourhoods. Yurakucho is known for its outdoor izakaya restaurants underneath the JR Yamanote Line train tracks.

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