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Tokyo (Roppongi) September 8, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Roppongi)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8u

Roppongi is a somewhat seedy area of Tokyo that is extremely popular with foreigners. When I came to Japan, over 3 years ago, Roppongi was undergoing a revitalization of the neighbourhood. Roppoongi Hills had just opened and it was suddenly a place for the rich and famous to visit. However, there was still a large club district where there were dozens of clubs that attracted many foreigners.

The first place people usually think of when they talk about shopping and Roppongi is Roppongi Hills. It is an upscale shopping mall and business complex that opened in 2003. It’s a large labyrinth of walkways, stairs, and shops. Finding your way around this shopping complex is difficult to say the least. Finding Roppongi Hills is also a challenge. Depending on which train you take, Roppongi Hills isn’t located near the station, so check the maps or you could easily get lost. However, if you take the correct train, you will be greeted by a large glass atrium that is very picturesque. The main attractions of the complex aren’t the upscale shops. Rather, the first is a large open terrace that goes up and down over the complex. It’s a nice place to see some interesting art and enjoy a nice stroll. There is a famous spider sculpture that can be eerie, yet it’s perfectly harmless. The roof will also allow you to enjoy the view of Tokyo Tower. If you head down from the terrace, you’ll reach a nice small garden with lots of plants and flowers. It’s a beautiful place to visit during the cherry blossom season. In the winter, there are hundreds of lights within the park and also throughout the complex. If you head up, way up, you will reach the Mori Art museum and a viewing centre. Beware though as you have to pay to see the view. The last attraction is the TV Asahi building. It houses a few displays of current TV shows airing in Japan as well as a gift corner. If you venture outside near the car park entrance, you might see some film crews with some Japanese talents.

If you walk around Roppongi Hills, you will have a nice time enjoying some of the new shops that have popped up in the area. They tend to be high priced boutiques that offer some nice goods that may not be easy to find anywhere else. You will also run into the Chinese embassy. It’s best to not head too far down that road as there really isn’t much to see. However, on the TV Asahi corner of the complex, you will be able to go to the Blueman Group theatre, a nice large Tsutaya bookstore, and Azabu-juban.  Do note that the Blueman Group will have their last Tokyo show on November 29, 2009.  Be sure to catch the show while you can.  Whether or not they’ll have a new show or what will replace them in that theatre remains to be seen.

In 2007, Roppongi Hills had some competition. Roppongi Hills was built by Mori Building, one of the largest development companies in Japan. Their arch rivals, Mitsui Fudosan decided to literally go across the station, buy a disused military base and build a “cousin” complex to Roppongi Hills called Tokyo Midtown. It was an ingenious idea as the area was already growing rapidly, and demand for high end shops were growing. It was also a very risky adventure as it could easily flop. Thankfully, things went well, and both complexes are thriving. The main theme of Tokyo Midtown was to promote lesser known high end brands. Tokyo Midtown also has a large underground eating area and prepared foods section. You can buy almost anything that you could imagine. The main attraction for the budget conscious is the large garden behind the main entrance. The garden measures a 40,000 sq metre garden that is wonderful to just wander around. While it’s more of a park, it’s still very beautiful and full of couples during December as they have a huge light display. In a corner of the garden, and underground, is the Suntory Museum of Art. It is a direct competitor to the Mori Art Museum, and in many cases, people say its better. Lastly, Tokyo Midtown is also the site of the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. It’s the first one in Tokyo, but probably not too interesting for most people.

I mentioned, at the beginning of this post, that Roppongi has undergone a transformation from a club district to a high end shopping district. While that is true for the most part, there is still a sizable area for clubbing. The original meeting spot of Roppongi was at the Almond café. It is on the corner of Roppongi-dori and Gaien Higashi-dori. It is the pink and white shop. Unfortunately, due to high rents, this café has recently relocated. However, if you walk down the street towards Tokyo Tower, you will head towards the entertainment district of Roppongi. Unfortunately, things are quickly getting quiet as many clubs are closing due to the revitalization efforts. If you want to see this area, you had better do it quickly. I’ve heard that some of the clubs are moving towards Azabu, but I cannot confirm this.

Roppongi is, without a doubt an interesting place to visit. Unfortunately, it is no longer a unique place. Aoyama and Omotesando both have their own versions of Roppongi Hills, and even Shanghai’s World Financial Centre (developed by Mori Building) will be similar. It isn’t a new thing. It’s essentially mixed use “habitat” where you can work, live, and play. It’s a wonderful place to go on a date, but remember that it’s still somewhat expensive.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Azabu-Juban)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8w

Azabu-Juban (Azabu) is not a place you would normally want to visit. It’s generally an upscale residential neighbourhood. It is an area that is immediately next to Roppongi that has many festivals and activities all year round. If you are a resident of Tokyo, Azabu is a very good place to visit during the day and enjoy a nice coffee and a little shopping. There are only a few main streets in Azabu, and they are lined with shops. In the middle is a small park where you can relax on most days. The far end of Azabu is actually Roppongi Hills, so walking from Azabu station to Roppongi station is a very nice way to spend a day. You are guaranteed to see many interesting things that are unique to Azabu. Azabu, as it’s next to Roppongi, is also a hub for foreign embassies, just like Roppongi and Hiroo.

The main reason I’m writing about Azabu is because of the Matsuri. Matsuri is literally translated into English as “festival”. Every year, in the heat of summer, Azabu is transformed for one weekend. It becomes an extremely busy place where people gather. The station is situated close to a highway and canal, and this is the best starting place if you visit the festival. This area traditionally has the most open space with many food stalls selling foreign foods. You can sample food from almost all over the world. There are very few places to actually eat, but if you don’t mind standing or sitting on the street, you won’t have any problems. There is also a nice set of fountains that make for good picture opportunities. One warning though, being the summer festival, you’ll have a tough time getting that perfect shot. You’ll have to do a hit and run. Another warning is to be patient. Often, each stall has a long line-up. The workers can barely keep up with the demand. Be patient and you’ll be able to eat a lot of different foods.

The main attraction has to be the regular festival stalls. If you have never been to a Japanese festival, this is the best one to see. You’ll see all of the regular foods and games that can be played. Starting with the food, there are plenty of places you can get good Japanese fare. The most popular food must be yakisoba. For 500-700 Yen, you can get a small box full of fried buckwheat noodles in a teriyaki sauce. If you call it teriyaki in Japan, people will probably look at you a little funny. They just call it sauce and it’s very easy to find, but it’s never labelled “teriyaki”. The other major food to eat is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osakan food. Some will call it a pancake, and others a pizza. I generally choose a pizza. The basic okonomiyaki is cabbage and batter with “sauce”, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried green onions on top. Often they add eggs, bacon, and anything else they can add. Okonomiyaki is literally translated into “as you like it”, so there isn’t any set recipe. You will find that kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and the Nara area) food is very popular at any festival.

Takoyaki is the other essential food. This is similar to okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage, and instead of a pizza, it’s a ball. Be warned, takoyaki is EXTREMELY hot. While the outer crust of the ball is cool, the inside is still very hot. Tako is octopus in Japanese, and you’ll always find a large piece of octopus in the middle. Some places outside Japan make takoyaki, but they don’t always put a big piece of octopus in the middle. It makes a BIG difference. Other than that, you can get grilled fish and squid, and anything else that can be cooked on an open fire or flat grill. For desert, you usually have only two choices. Chocolate dipped bananas or kakikori (Japanese style snow cone). If you are thirsty, you can buy soft drinks, or beer. Yes, they have beer. Unlike Canada and America, you can actually drink in public. The price of beer is a little expensive, but you can get any brand you wish. If you need to save money, there are a few convenience stores in Azabu and beer is regular price.

Games are also part of the festival. Generally, the most famous game is a fishing game. You don’t get a fishing rod, or even a fishing line. You get a kind of “net” that is made of rice paper. It looks like a paddle, and it’s very fragile. After one or two tries, it will break and you have to stop. You generally pay for a few paddles and you try to scoop small goldfish into a bowl. Whatever you catch, you can keep. The festival also sells a few goods that are popular as souvenirs. If you aren’t interested in the games, the park is an excellent place to visit. At night, they start the bon odori. This is a traditional Japanese folk dance. They usually have a big taiko drum that is played by various people while music is played over a speaker system. People form a big circle and start dancing. It looks very much like line dancing, but in a large circle, and each dance tells a story. Don’t worry if you don’t know the moves. You can easily learn them by watching them. If you don’t know, one of the older ladies are usually happy to teach you. Many Japanese people don’t even know some of the dances, so don’t be afraid.

If you are in Tokyo during the Azabu-juban Matsuri, I highly recommend that you go to this festival. It’s probably one of the best in Tokyo. There are other festivals held throughout the summer and into late September, but this is one of the biggest. You’ll be able to see all of the other smaller festivals in one place. Make sure you are prepared for the heat, and buy lots of beer.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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