Translated by Ken
10 Things To Do In Aoyama, Tokyo - Cafes, Museums, And Shopping Guide
Aoyama is a district in Tokyo brimming with high-end fashion brands and boutiques. With a mixture of cafes, museums, and nature, it is the perfect place to take a stroll in the city. This article introduces ten fun things to do in the Aoyama area.
Written by Kousuke DEKI
Aoyama - Tokyo's Fashionable Neighborhood
With its streets lined with classy stores and boutiques, Aoyama is Tokyo's fashion-forward neighborhood.
Just a short walk away from Harajuku and Omotesando, Aoyama is also a train ride away from Shibuya. Compared to its neighboring trend-setting districts, this area is more sophisticated and appeals to a mature crowd. Here, you'll find high-end brands and unique boutiques and spot fashionably dressed people.
From cafes and restaurants to jazz clubs and museums—not to mention the lush greenery—Aoyama stands out through its elegant, laidback atmosphere within the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. If you get off at Harajuku Station, walk down Takeshita-dori Street to Omotesando and finally reach Aoyama, you'll notice first-hand the change in scenery among the neighborhoods.
The intersection between Aoyama-dori Avenue and Omotesando
When talking about Aoyama, it is typically in reference to the main street Aoyama-dori Avenue.
Pictured above is the intersection between Aoyama-dori Avenue and Omotesando. To the right of Aoyama-dori Avenue is North Aoyama, while to the left is South Aoyama. Omotesando, Harajuku, and Meiji-jingu Shrine comprise North Aoyama, while the Nezu Museum and Blue Note Tokyo are in the south.
As a side note, Omotesando extends from the aforementioned intersection to Meiji-jingu Shrine behind Harajuku Station. While surrounded by upscale shopping centers and high-street brands, such as Omotesando Hills and Louis Vuitton, you can take a 15-minute stroll down the slope to reach Harajuku Station.
Now, this article will introduce several enjoyable activities you can do in Aoyama.
*Omotesando and Aoyama are often considered the same neighborhood because of their close proximity and undefined borders. This article also introduces Omotesando Hills and several locations in Harajuku as part of Aoyama.
1. Stroll around Aoyama
Clockwise from the top left: Tod's, Ao Building, Louis Vuitton, and Portofino
When walking from Omotesando to Aoyama, you are likely to notice some quite unique buildings lining the streets.
Resembling intertwining trees, the Tod's building was designed by the renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito. Meanwhile, the Louis Vuitton storefront has a striking wide screen panel that exudes supreme refinement.
Why not take a stroll through the Aoyama area while admiring the unique architecture?
Explore Kotto-Dori Street
As you continue strolling through Aoyama, you will also spot a number of small, quirky shops amidst the high-end brands.
The brick building pictured on the left is the Sanyodo Bookstore. Located at the intersection of Omotesando/Aoyama-dori, this long-established bookstore has seen the Aoyama area develop and evolve since its founding in 1891. Adding to the building's warm aesthetic is a mural by Rokuro Taniuchi, a Showa-era illustrator.
Kotto-dori Street was named after the countless stores that sold antiques (kotto). In recent years, antique shops are few and far between, but you can still find some alongside art galleries in the alleys.
Aside from being an area dotted with cafes, you can reach the Nezu Museum at the back of Koto-dori Street or the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum on the adjacent street.
2. Beauty and Art at the Nezu Museum
A 40-meter-long bamboo hedgerow
A few blocks from Kotto-dori Street is the Nezu Museum. Founded in 1941, this art museum displays the art collection of businessman Kaichiro Nezu (1860-1940). The building was designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and features an impressive bamboo hedgerow at the entrance.
Entrance Hall. Picture courtesy of Nezu Museum ©Mitsumasa Fujitsuka. From our South Aoyama Travel Guide (Japanese)
At this museum, visitors can enjoy a plethora of East Asian and Japanese art pieces. The ancient Chinese bronze ware on display on the second floor is remarkably well-preserved.
In the tea ceremony showroom, you can admire the utensils used in tea ceremonies hosted by Nezu himself. He would routinely rotate the artworks and calligraphy hangings in the tea room based on the day's theme and his guests. This attention to detail was much appreciated by his visitors.
English explanations are available in all of the exhibition rooms.
From our South Aoyama Travel Guide (Japanese)
Another attractive feature of the museum is the expansive Japanese garden, which is larger than the museum itself!
Statues and other artworks are displayed throughout the garden, and the seasonal flowers are a beautiful addition that you'll never grow tired of. Walk down the rolling garden to see koi* swimming gracefully in a large pond. With birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind, the garden is a peaceful hideaway within the busy metropolis.
*Koi: Japanese carp.
3. Modern Art at the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum
Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) was one of Japan's most prominent artists in the 20th century. As a painter and a sculptor, his memorable works include the "Tower of the Sun" at Osaka's Expo '70 Commemorative Park and the "Myth of Tomorrow", a mural in Shibuya Station.
The legendary artist lived in Aoyama and his home has since been converted into the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum. Here, you can appreciate his works and purchase original souvenirs inspired by his art.
The highlight of the museum is the atelier where Okamoto created his artworks. It remains almost exactly the way it was during his lifetime. The paint splatters in the room also attest to the artist's passion.
You will find several unique sculptures in the backyard. Staying true to his words "Art is an explosion," his works burst forth with color and have the effect of pulling you into his world. Photos are permitted so you can make the most of your visit.
Though a slight distance away, we also recommend the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art for self-professed art lovers.
4. Charming Cafes in the Back Alleys
Blue Bottle Coffee
Look for the sign with a blue bottle
For a quick break during your neighborhood stroll, we recommend Blue Bottle Coffee Aoyama Cafe. Turn into an alley from Aoyama-dori Avenue and keep your eyes open for the discreet entrance to the cafe. Once you find the sign with a blue bottle, head to the second floor. There, you will be greeted with the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee.
There's no need to worry about ordering in Japanese because English-speaking baristas are present. Why not take a moment to enjoy the view of the trees outside the window with a fresh cup of coffee in hand?
Other Recommended Cafes
Terrace seating at crisscross
There are plenty of other cafes in the Aoyama area. Crisscross offers cafe-goers an open, inviting atmosphere. It opens at 8:00 and offers free refills of their morning coffee.
Other recommendations include Cafe Kitsune, with its bamboo fence entrance reminiscent of a Japanese teahouse, and Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, which is run by a flower shop surrounded by seasonal flowers.
5. Weekend Shopping at the Aoyama Farmer's Market
From the Harajuku-Omotesando-Aoyama Travel Guide (Traditional Chinese)
If you visit Aoyama on the weekend, we recommend going to the Farmer's Market at UNU.
From "5 Rare Ingredients You Can Only Buy at Aoyama Farmer's Market"
Held every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00, farmers from all over Japan come to sell produce, accessories, and general items in front of United Nations University.
6. Shopping in Omotesando
Omotesando Hills is a shopping mall featuring the latest cutting edge fashion brands in Japan. With over one hundred stores, there is no shortage of high-quality and unique products.
The six floors of the main building (from the third basement floor to the top three levels) are constructed with an atrium in the center and a spiral slope circling around a giant staircase. This mall is the perfect place to discover the latest fashion trends.
If you head in the opposite direction from Aoyama (toward Harajuku), you will find Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku at the far end of Omotesando. This mall is a great place for fashionable clothes, beauty products, and cosmetics.
7. Grabbing a Quick Bite at Cat Street
Lobster Rolls at Luke's Lobster
Lobster rolls (regular size)
Partway down Omotesando, a narrow street branches off to connect Shibuya and Harajuku. Roughly a kilometer long, Cat Street is lined with interesting apparel stores and thrift shops. The streets are populated with fashion conscious individuals, too.
If you spot a long line, it is likely for Luke's Lobster—a lobster roll franchise started in New York. Its most popular item is the rolls filled with meat from Maine lobsters. The lobster meat is tender and the herbs provide a refreshing accent. A regular size lobster roll costs 980 yen (without tax).
Green onion and mayo takoyaki at WaraTako
On Cat Street, you can savor one of Osaka's quintessential street food—takoyaki*. The most popular item at WaraTako is their green onion and mayo flavored takoyaki (550 yen with tax). Topped with green onions and a salt-based sauce, this is a delicious snack that will surely stimulate your appetite. The soft filling and mayonnaise will also melt in your mouth.
We recommend trying a variety of street food mainstays with your friends and family.
*Takoyaki: Octopus fried in a flour-based batter.
WaraTako Harajuku Omotesando
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 5-11-3 Google Map
8. Cherry Blossoms at Aoyama Cemetery
You may be wondering why we would recommend a cemetery, but Aoyama Cemetery is famous for its cherry blossom trees. During the spring, the pathway through the cemetery becomes awash in pink by the fully-bloomed trees.
There is also a graveyard for those who came from the West to help modernize Japan in the late 19th and early 20th century. Feel free to pray in front of these tombstones while admiring the cherry blossoms throughout the cemetery.
*Kabuki: Traditional Japanese theater.
Address: Tokyo, Minato, Minami-Aoyama 2-32-2 Google Map
9. Enjoy the City's Night Life at Blue Note Tokyo
If you wish to sample the Tokyo nightlife in Aoyama, we recommend visiting Blue Note Tokyo: a jazz club where musicians from around the world have been performing since 1988.
While the club mainly features jazz artists, you can enjoy blues and R&B performances as well. Order some drinks and food as you treat your ears to music from some of the best jazz musicians.
You can purchase tickets online or by phone. Popular performances sell out quickly, so make sure to check the schedule before planning your visit.
10. Sporting Games at Japan's Famous Stadiums
Jingu Stadium is home to the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) team Tokyo Yakult Swallows. However, both professional and student games are held here year-round. The critically acclaimed author Haruki Murakami has been a long-time fan of the Swallows, even writing in his memoirs that he made the decision to become an author at one of their home games.
One of the most famous rugby stadiums in Japan, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium hosts countless matches. The short distance between the field and spectators' seats creates an incredible sense of immersion.
Maisen Tonkatsu from our Maisen Renovation Article (Traditional Chinese)
From upscale to casual, you will have no problem finding places to dine in the Aoyama area. Maisen, a famous tonkatsu restaurant with stores across the country, has their main restaurant in Aoyama. Savor their crisply fried pork cutlets while dining inside its fancy atmosphere.
Back alley of Cat Street
Near the entrance to Cat Street is a back alley lined with numerous eateries serving local food. We recommend Harajuku Gyoza Lou, an extremely popular gyoza* restaurant. There's also the ramen restaurant Santoka Harajuku and Chao Bamboo, where you can enjoy an array of Asian-inspired dishes.
*Gyoza: Pot stickers.
Gifts and Souvenirs
A popular store to purchase souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando. You will find T-shirts, general goods, and books on the basement floor. The first floor has tableware and Japanese trinkets while the second floor sells crafts, furniture, and kimonos*. From knickknacks to luxury goods, the store offers a wide array of Japanese gifts.
Kiddy Land Harajuku
Kiddy Land Harajuku
If you are looking for figurines, stop by Kiddy Land Harajuku. From Hello Kitty to Pokemon to Sailor Moon, the store has a variety of merchandise in stock from different anime and video games.
Access to Aoyama
Gaiemmae Station is the most convenient when visiting Jingu Stadium, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, or the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art. Aoyama Cemetery is easily accessible from Gaiemmae Station, Aoyama-itchome Station, and Nogizaka Station (the cherry-blossom lined trees are about the same distance from any of these stations).
Enjoy Exploring Aoyama
Full of lush greenery, Aoyama is the ideal location to take a nice walk. We recommend taking your time to explore this charming area taking in the surrounding nature during your stroll.