Hillside Terrace

Hillside Terrace

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 Daikanyama

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 Scelta

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 kitchen sink.

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 masses.

Funky stores fill the Daikanyama backstreets

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 specialty, curry.

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.

Cafe Artifagose

Interior monologue
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 charms.

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.



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