Once known solely as a land of nightclubs and bars, where streets were quiet in the daytime and the city’s youth didn’t emerge until 10 or 11 in the evening, Roppongi was truly a party till dawn locale.
Equally known for attracting foreign residents of Tokyo, people from all over the world gathered in Roppongi to enjoy a variety of international cuisine at restaurants and bars and the artists of today invented their own ‘Roppongi culture.’
Sadly though, for a time this did single it out as an area the more ordinary Tokyoite would perhaps hesitate to visit.
All that has now changed however, as the Roppongi Hills complex is now the talk of the town and the centerpiece on which Roppongi now promotes itself. Old and young alike nowadays come to Roppongi from all over Japan making Roppongi a popular Tokyo sightseeing spot – albeit one that never sleeps.
History of Roppongi
The origin of the name Roppongi is unknown but it has been said that there were once either six pines or ginkgo trees or that the local daimyo’s mansions had names related to trees during the Edo era (1603-1868). As Roppongi was then a residential district for feudal lords it retains this glamour in the modern day as Roppongi is still an area in which the capital’s nouveau riche choose to reside. A good many ambassadors from around the world lived in and around Roppongi in the early 20th century and in addition to the then Japanese military base in Roppongi before World War II such an overall combination gave the neighborhood a uniquely international, sometimes exotic atmosphere.
Burned down by air-raids, residents of Roppongi started again amid the ashes and over the decades Roppongi turned itself into an amusement area appealing to foreigners; especially so after the ruins of the nearby Japanese army bases in Akasaka and Azabu were taken over by the occupying US forces.
There are always crowds of people in the front of the “Almond” cafe at Roppongi crossing. My own favorite spot in the area is “U.Goto Florist.” Filled with the scents so stereotypical of florists and flowers, and with an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, it is as if the hustle and bustle of the outside world is on a different planet; a most recommended spot from those trying to escape the rat race.
Roppongi Hills itself is a fully self contained complex featuring shops, restaurants, a hotel, an art museum, a cinema complex, offices and a residential area that opened in April, 2003. The vast and highly complicated labyrinth of shopping streets and pedestrian areas is certainly a challenge and lots of fun for the adventurous. Impossible to conquer by visiting just a few times, the attraction of ‘beating the system’ will keep you coming back for more.
The following are a few of the things to see.
The Metro Hat, the main entrance of Roppongi Hills, is directly connected to Roppongi Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. After ascending the long escalator, you reach Roku-Roku Plaza, one of Roppongi Hills’ entrance squares. A large sculpture in the shape of a spider called Maman offers something of a surprise and is often used as a meeting place or a relaxation spot if the sun is shining and the weather is fine.
Standing ahead of you at this point is the “Roppongi Hills Mori Tower” with the Mori Arts Center taking up the space from the 49th to the 53rd floor. The Mori Art Museum, on the 53rd floor offers exhibitions of mainly contemporary art. The attractions are not limited to the inside, though, as visitors can enjoy a unique panoramic night view of Tokyo from a glass walled Tokyo City View Observatory that remains open until 1 am.
Hillside is a semi-open-air street facing Mohri Garden. Asian and Oriental restaurants line the route selling such specialty dishes as Chinese shoronpo, a favorite that always brings in the crowds and results in long lines. Events held at the Roppongi Hills Arena or movies in the Keyakizaka Complex which houses the VIRGINE TOHO CINEMAS, one of the largest cinema complexes in Tokyo with impressive 9 screens, are themselves reasons for visiting and bring people streaming in. The Mohri Garden ‘Japanese Garden’ on site was created atop the ruins of the Mohri Domain residence which dated back to the Edo period. The circular building just beyond the Mohri Garden is TV Asahi’s main office building. The atrium on the first floor, its cafe and shop are all open to the public.
The West Walk is an impressive galleria inside Mori Tower onto which sunlight will shine on clear days and is host to popular shops, trendy restaurants and everyday facilities such as banks, clinics and a post office.
Roppongi Keyakizaka Dori is a roughly 400-meter long avenue stretching east to west with a large branch of LOUIS VUITTON in the middle. Brand shops from other countries, older and well established restaurants and fashionable cafes stand side by side along this street and a stroll down the gentle slope from Roppongi Dori to Azabu-Juban, with a stop or two for shopping and tea is a popular pastime. Various residential buildings line the avenue and dressed up locals can often be seen walking their pooches.
Tsutaya is a convenient shop to browse through magazines while drinking coffee bought from the in-store Starbucks, and Food Magazine is a stylish supermarket open 24 hours a day.
To cover the area in the most efficient way possible, – Roppongi Hills Tours provides tours over several routes to show off the local must-see sights, please note that booking in advance is recommended. Tours are provided in English and Chinese as well as in Japanese.
The Tokyo Midtown Project is under way at the former site of the Defense Agency with the result being that yet another new town will paint another face on Roppongi life. Roppongi’s latest place to see and be seen will emerge in the spring of 2007.