Tuesday, 11 April 2006


Omotesando [Street, road or perhaps boulevard, I suppose], has been described as the Champs Elysee of Tokyo, though not be me, you understand. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe it is because of the trees that line it, or maybe because it has always been home to fashionable boutiques and expensive stores (and by fashionable I really mean expensive and full of clothes normal (or rather sane) people don’t buy – I digress), but then so is Ginza and no one, to my knowledge, calls Ginza Dori the you-know-what of Tokyo (maybe as they are calling Omotesando that? -Ed.). It could also mean that it is full of rude people, as is the rest of Paris. Or even that it is a long shopping street with too many cars running down it and the Arc de Triomphe at one end (though sadly this is missing from the Tokyo version so it can’t be that one).

BasicallyI don’t really know why, but what I do know is that it is a rather fetching street of Tokyo. Or, at least, it was.

What Omotesando was was a long road full of quite interesting shops and then a network of small lanes behind on each side which contained many small, interesting little shops, bars, galleries and restaurants and where it was pleasant to stroll of an afternoon. It also had, near the top of the road, an apartment block the name of which I cannot remember, but which was built after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake using cutting edge technology (of the time) and which came to be a beloved, ivy clad symbol of the area as its lower floors were filled with more interesting little shops and galleries

Now as everyone knows the average life of a building in the Tokyo area is about 26 years so an apartment block that was eighty was either going to be declared a national treasure or torn down. And I bet you can guess which one it was...

Enter, stage left, Mr Mori, he of the boring, way over hyped and remarkably uninspiring (in my opinion) Roppongi Hills. He was given he task of redesigning the area surrounding, and possibly including, the apartment block so it became a centre for international fashion and shopping and lifestyle and other vitally important functions as Tokyo, with only Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi, was felt to be at something of a disadvantage with other major cities as a shopping destination.

Mr Mori took a long hard look at the apartment block and came to startling but very perceptive conclusion – unlike his other ventures, Roppongi Hills, Ark Hills, Aoyama Hills and Hills Hills, Omotesando in general and specifically the apartment building in question did not have the word ‘Hills’ in their respective names. He also realised that the area of Omotesando had some individuality in its makeup that did not sit well with his vision for the redevelopment of central Tokyo.

Thankfully, a few years later, Mr Mori’s dream has been realised and (no really) Omotesando Hills has been created.

The reason I am going on about this now is that on Saturday I visited Omotesando for the first time in really ages and certainly the first time since OH was opened and so I got there a bit early to have a wander around. I was there for a leaving do (of Chris, who knows stuff about IT and his partner Vicki, who are heading back to the UK), so knowing that OH had been opened I thought I’d have a walk down the avenue to have a gander. I wasn’t expecting much as I had, over the preceding months, read plenty about OH, most people slagging it off as an eyesore. Well, to be honest, I didn’t really feel it was an eyesore or carbuncle on the backside of Tokyo. To me it was much worse than that. It was, sadly, just bland.

It is, essentially, a copy of Roppongi Hills and all the others, only whereas Roppongi Hills is all towers and upwards, Omotesando Hills is flatter and low rise. It does, apparently, go down quite a long way as well, so that while the top is only about 2 or 3 stories high, there are in fact 6 or 7 floors – this has been done to keep the low sky line feel. A nice touch but ruined by another, really ugly building across the road that is meant, I think someone told me on Saturday night, to resemble a tree or something equally preposterous (what’s wrong with a real tree instead of the building, I say?). But for OH, the outside is all white concrete and pale/white glass and not a lot else. The few shops that have windows on the outside, and there aren’t many, for some reason, are full of jeans that cost a month’s salary. Fascinating.

I realise, as I write this, that I am in danger of becoming an old fogey, but what the hell, I don’t care, I loved the old Omotesando for it’s quirkiness and variety and sense of itself and that has all now disappeared.

Walking away, saddened as I was, I went through a few back streets and they, at least, seem to have retained a bit of their charm, thank goodness. But one of my favourite lunchtime eateries, and place named Bamboo that did great sandwiches and which was in a great building, all nooks and crannies, has been transformed into Bamboo bog standard French restaurant (parties, weddings and monotony catered for) that now looks truly uninspiring indeed.

In fact the lanes seemed to confirm that Omotesando is now the place to come if you need to buy expensive jeans or for a woman to get a haircut and not a great deal else.

Shame that.

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