Thursday, October 8, 2015

Kagurazaka - a village within a city

Kagurazaka, a small neighbourhood hidden in plain sight and tucked away in the centre of Tokyo, is strangely relatively unknown. It was traditionally a focus of manga artists and the publishing industry, boasted a thriving geishi culture and is home to seemingly hundreds of outstanding little restaurants and bars. For many years it was also home to Adidas that had set up in a Norman Foster designed building in the area (though the building is now gone, having not survived too well during the earthquake of March 2011).

Stepping off the main strip you quickly find yourself lost in a maze of narrow back streets, barely wide enough for two to walk shoulder to shoulder. The occasional geisha still frequent these alleyways as they stroll to the expensive kaiseki restaurants where they entertain the exclusive clientele throughout their meal. It's also home to the French community in Tokyo, the school being close by and the French Institute running a stream of cultural events.

Historically, the area was daimyo (feudal lord's) land to the north of Edo Castle where a bridge crossed the moat, which is now used as a fishing pool. Temples abound and the sakura, Cherry Blossom, is stunning in early spring. Everything has a story to it and even the rare tidal-flow street that reverses traffic direction in the morning (local folklore suggesting this was to allow an influential politician to visit and then quickly leave his "hobby" during the 1970's) adds to the charm. And you can walk the area in days or minutes. Up to you, but there is always something interesting to see and experience. Not bad considering in March 1945 it was a display of nothing but scorched earth.

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