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Thursday, April 06, 2006



Omotesando from HarajukuRunning a straight line from Yoyogi Park to fashionable Aoyama Dori (street), Omotesando is the closest thing in Tokyo to Madison Avenue or Rodeo Boulevard or Oxford Street. Lined with zelkova trees, it is also one of the few streets in Tokyo that is pleasant to stroll along--a funky European boulevard plunked down in the middle of the mess that is the world's largest megalopolis.

Leaving Harajuku Station, there are still signs of the dress-up culture that made the area famous in years past. The Goth look is big; within that subculture something that could be described as Little Bo Peep in Black was seen at least twice. In addition, young women wearing low cut blouses, which managed to expose both cleavage and a flash of brown abdomen; mini-skirts; and stockings that reached to mid-thigh--what my companion Amy from the US called the "hooker look"--were well represented.

Omotesando BillboardPerhaps more interesting than the women, though, was the streetscape itself. Herzog & de Meuron's Prada store stands near Jun Aoki's Louis Vuitton boutique and, farther down, there is Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa's glass covered Christian Dior structure. Across the street is Kengo Kuma's One Omotesando. A bit farther afield stand buildings by Toyo Ito, Arata Isozaki, and Fumihiko Maki (most notably Spiral).

Omotesando HillsThe latest addition to the area is Tadao Ando's Omotesando Hills (pictured at left). Replacing the Dojunkai Aoyama Apartments that had survived the war and anchored the block since 1927--which is prehistoric in Tokyo building terms--Ando's work took the place of a beloved but well-worn housing project. The protests that followed the announcement that the building would meet the wrecking ball have become part urban legend, part fact, part of the fabric of the phoenix that is Tokyo. The new building is chic and cool, understated and heavy on ferro-concrete; in short, it is all Ando.

P1010026After passing hundreds of highly coiffed women and many brilliant post-modern buildings, we ended our tour at a glass subway entrance just south of Aoyama Dori. The glass itself is amazing enough; what is even more impressive is that it was clean.

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