Leafy streets. Low-rise buildings. Stylish boutiques. Laid-back cafes. Green parks. This may sound like a far cry from Tokyo, a city synonymous with futuristic skyscrapers, packed trains and urban neon.
Yet there is another side to the Japanese capital that defies urban stereotypes and moves at a surprisingly relaxed tempo – and there are few better examples of this than Daikanyama, a neighbourhood just south of the blare of Shibuya.
The DNA of Daikanyama’s low-key but fashionable atmosphere can perhaps be traced to the presence one of Tokyo’s most iconic architectural developments – Hillside Terrace, home to Caramel’s Japan flagship.
Discreetly interwoven into the low-rise urban tableau, the development meanders along both sides of the main wide street Kyu-Yamate Dori, creating the atmosphere of a small village.
And so there are art galleries, fashion boutiques, lifestyle stores, cafes, florists, wedding shops, offices, apartments. There’s even a Shinto shrine and an embassy on its grounds.
The complex was created by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most celebrated architects, over a 30-year period, starting in the 1960s when the area was still surrounded by forested hillsides
Today, it can perhaps be viewed as an architectural diary of a city’s urban growth – the gradual expansion of its network of low-rise concrete buildings, passageways and walkways interspersed with leafy trees reflecting the capital’s fast-growing evolution in recent decades.
As Darryl Jingwen Wee, an architecture expert who runs bespoke tours in Tokyo, explains: “In a scrap-and-build city where the average lifespan of a building is just 26 years, Hillside Terrace is an anomaly: an architecturally coherent residential and commercial mixed-use complex that unfolds over a gently sloping site, weaving together open plazas, walkways, and stairwells with green spaces, cafes and shops, event and exhibition spaces, and even a shrine”.
“While Tokyo has always been a city of low-rise, village-like development with an intimate human scale, it is also often slapdash and makeshift, and rarely aesthetically coherent — with Hillside Terrace being a notable exception.”
The best way to experience it? Simply take a leisurely stroll along Kyu-Yamate Dori and soak up the atmosphere, stopping to window shop, have a coffee, take in an art exhibition, buy some flowers. And perhaps best of all? You can even pop into the Caramel store to say hello to the friendly Japan team.
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Darryl Jingwen Wee (http://www.tokyotomo.org/) offers bespoke architectural, art and design tours of Tokyo, including the Daikanyama area.
Words by: Danielle Demetriou