Matt Wilce navigates the varied street-life of
Central Tokyo' hippest hood.
Click here to see a map of Daikayama
Sandwiched between Shibuya and Ebisu are the bustling back streets of Daikanayama, one of
the city's hotspots for fashion, avant-garde architecture and caf・culture. A delightful
blend of haute couture and vintage fashion, Daikanyama's boutiques jostle with
patisseries, salons and seriously funky accessory shops providing something for
metropolitan hipsters of all ages.
Daikanyama began its modernist transformation after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1924. As
post-quake slums began to rise, the Ministry of Home Affairs set out to counter the
problem with building projects that included the construction of dojunkai (public
housing). The 232 apartments, constructed in the center of the up-coming community of
Daikanyama, dominated the landscape for the next 70 years. Designed by Yishikazu Uchida
and Toshikata Sano, professors at Tokyo Imperial University and world leaders in
quake-resistant concrete structures, the apartments set the tone for Daikanyama's future
architectural development. Despite protests, the apartments finally bit the dust in 1996
to make way for the Daikanyama Address redevelopment.
|Eclectic architecture abounds in
Built to last
Designed by architect, Fumihiko Maki, the Hillside Terrace complex is a unique
development that has grown to dominate the upper-side from the station. The string of
buildings, spread across both sides of Kyuyamate dori, combines sleek forms with a variety
of functions: Fronting the busy street are shops, galleries, restaurants and the Danish
embassy, while offices and apartments inhabit the upper stories and rear structures.
Maki, a member of the influential group of architects known as the Metabolists, was
commissioned by the wealthy Asakura family to develop the area back in 1967. The initial
phase was completed two years later, and Maki continued to expand the project over the
next quarter-century to produce a complex that utilizes a range of materials - such as
pink and white porcelain tiles, steel, glass and concrete - and forms, while maintaining
an overriding sense of unity. Just as important as the clean structure are the spaces
between them. Linked by courtyards, open stairwells, paths and glass walls, the
sophisticated chain of buildings invites exploration. Venture away from the shop-fronts
into the compact courtyards and passages, and Maki's skill at transparent layering becomes
clear. His clean lines and ability to give compact spaces a sense of depth making you wish
he'd been let loose on the rest of Tokyo.
To see Maki's magnum opus unfold almost chronologically, walk up Kyuyamate dori from the koban
(police box), keeping to the left of the street. The large, embossed map a little way up
the hill helps to orientate the buildings. Sites A, B and C for example, are less inviting
to the casual observer, who may prefer the instant gratification of the art galleries and
shops housed in annexes A and B (the fourth stage of the project), but taking a minute to
explore them pays off.
|Like the latte in the Starbucks
below, this building also has extra topping
A little further up the street, the white-tiled third stage of the project (buildings D
and E) surrounds an ancient wooded mound topped with a shrine. The miniature green oasis
next door houses the rosiest of Tokyo's embassies; look out for the statue of the Little
Mermaid peaking out at pedestrians. Across the street the tallest structures in the
series, buildings F and G, house a flower shop, bakery, design store and shops and
restaurants. The small courtyard between them is planted with trees and leads back to a
small gallery. If spending more time in the Terrace intrigues you, many of the spaces are
actually available for rent. E building's salon comes in at a reasonable JY50,000 a day:
Perfect for an intimate gathering of architecture aficionados.
Old favorites at
Think of street caf駸 and Omotesando may spring to mind, but Daikanyama has its fair
share of opportunities for a first-class, boulevard-side boisson. Top of the list
comes Caf・Michelangelo, where sipping a cappuccino you'd swear you were sitting
on the edge of the Piazza San Marco, were it not for a surfeit of pigeons. One of Tokyo's
best street cafe's, this is the place to relax with an espresso and a newspaper -
you'll find Corriere della Sera on the newsstand - to people watch. The
authentically small tables outside come with fresh flowers and rugs to ward off winter
chills, while inside the prompt service and low-key jazz make a leisurely brunch of
focaccia a pleasure. Later in the day, after your shopping's complete, try the top-notch Ristorante
Aso, which surrounds the interior courtyard.
Spilling out from the corner of Le Place de Daikanyama, and affording a great view of the
main drag is Caf・Artifagose. Part patisserie-try their rustic fruit breads with
some brie from the cheese counter - and part caf・ this prime lounging location gets busy
on sunny weekends. If your stomach demands something more substantial, head upstairs to Au
Cheval Blanc for a reasonable lunch in unharried surroundings.
At the commercial end of the scale is the ubiquitous Starbucks, only this one comes
with a twist (no not of lemon) as it cohabits with a Bodum shop. Pick up a latte,
some beans and a Bodum French Press to go. You'll find everything that a caffeine fiend
might need and a few things-like the nutcracker-to take up permanent residence under the
South of the border, and the station, is La Calista a Mexican watering hole
offering respite from the retro mania of the neighborhood. Take a window seat on the
second-floor terrace and indulge in a Corona and some tortillas while you spy on wandering
|Funky stores fill the Daikanyama
Passion for fashion
Daikanyama is a fashion victim's playground: Everything from designer chic and ball-gowns
to sarongs and vintage leather jackets await the curious shopper. The high-end brands are
easy to spot-walk up from the station and Jean Paul Gaultier's quirky store meets
your eye. Vivienne Tam dominates the ground floor of Dix Sept/17 at Daikanyama
Address, while across the street Japanese designers Tsumori Chisato and Sunao
Kuwahara offer stylish yet playful women's wear. At via Bus Stop the big boys,
Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen vie with upstart Neil Barret, while further up the
street 5351 displays its fashionable affront through glass walls.
Exploring the back-streets can bring confusion when tres chic APC seems to
appear on every corner. But don't fear" you're not crazy. They just felt like
spreading out their monochrome style into three mini-boutiques.
Okura is a Daikanyama original that occupies an old converted house just off the
main drag. Watch out for the interesting array of debris embedded in the genkan
(entrance way) floor and the quirky pins that exclaim, "I'm from Japan." Famed
for its simple clothes fashioned from traditional indigo, Okura's unique designs range
from classic jeans and sweatshirts to long jackets and dresses. Follow the smell of
incense up to the second floor for women's wear and antiquated hair ornaments. A separate
stairway leads down to Bombay Cafe in the basement, a wonderfully quirky "recycled
restaurant." Join the stylish Earth-mothers and ・er-hippies, and try the house
From the same group that created Okura come the seriously funky Hollywood Ranch and
High Standard. Need an Elvis print shirt, pink ruffled tuxedo shirt or a sequined
bustier for that all-important first date? Hollywood Ranch has it all and then some. Watch
out for the stuffed iguana chained to the storefront while you wait to get in-if the
weekend queue is too long, take a rest in the seating area next door. Completing the trio,
High Standard is packed with second-hand clothes just waiting for eagle-eyed shoppers to
pluck them from the jam-packed rails.
These boots were made for walking
Daikanyama may seem an unlikely place for an English country gentlemen to buy shoes, but
wayward aristocrats should feel at home in the wood paneling of Lloyd Footwear and 42nd
Royal Highland. Both offer superior shoes shipped from London and 42nd Royal Highland
will even afford you the luxury of having your tan brogues made to measure. Just remember
brown shoes are for weekends in the country and never for town.
For funkier footwear head, to Alfreddo Bannister, where you will find beautifully
detailed shoes in bright leathers or Globe Specs for pumps plastered with
Campbell's soup. Viva Circus, near the station, has shelves packed with vibrant
training shoes guaranteed to get your toes tapping.
If you are looking for an antique tricycle or a six-foot tall iron clock, Accents
is the shop for you. As the name suggests this interiors store has collected unique accent
pieces from around the globe - everything from oversized candles that stand a meter high
to table-top fountains and huge bottles of preserves sealed with twists of wax.
When it comes to accessories and interiors, though, Daikanyama seems more at home with
kitsch, and Accents is the exception rather than the rule. If plastic is your bag, you'll
be in novelty heaven. For serious memory-joggers such as Smurfs, lava lamps and even Hong
Kong Fuey candles, D-Forme is the place to head. Pick up a James Brown doll and
give your apato some real soul. Elsewhere you'll find a proliferation of
irreverence: Dept East has devotional decorations that include a heartwarming
Virgin Mary nightlight and a range of magnetized Saints, plus an instant collection of
Elvis memorabilia. Down at Detente you'll discover old Big Bird space-hoppers and a
plethora of other bizarre items for the broadminded.
Scelta provides a refreshing blast from the past, with its collection of classic
TVs, sofas and chairs that spill out on to the street. Check out the '50s glassware and
fur rugs in the backroom before heading upstairs to the coffee shop.
While most stores concentrate on Americana, a surprisingly spacious emporium of everything
Asian that bucks the trend is Phoo. Carrying imported goods that range from Chinese
slippers to Vietnamese aluminum dishes and giant lotus flower candles, Phoo is a veritable
Aladdin's cave of oriental delights, just watch out for the random Mexican skeleton
Forget the bland bayside malls of Odaiba, the crush of Shinjuku and scrambling through
Shibuya. As hip as Harajuku and with attitude to rival Aoyama, Daikanyama's original blend
of retro and chic is the future of Tokyo.