Alongside the Ginza area in Tokyo’s east side, Omotesando is the capital’s premier shopping district. The area is basically one huge Zelkova tree-lined boulevard stretching from Harajuku station and the majestic entrance to Meiji shrine all the way to Aoyama meaning it spans demographics and can be seen as the perfect microcosm of Tokyo as a whole.
The neighborhood is a curious mix of very affluent adults, hipsters and teens. This is due to the close proximity to more youth focused areas like Harajuku and Shibuya and the hipster village feel to Aoyama. It’s common to spot both domestic and international celebs, models and style influencers strutting their stuff down the boulevard.
Sandwiched between Harajuku and Shibuya, Omotesando is quite an urban oddity. While it’s now synonymous with luxury and high brands due to the sheer number of ostentatious flagships which line the street it wasn’t always this way. A trip to the area at the beginning of this century and you would have encountered groups of small independent craft stores, vintage clothing shops and the famous Bauhaus-inspired Dojunkai Aoyama Apartments which were built in the 1920s and eventually became a warren of artist studios and creative labs. The complex was demolished and replaced, in 2005, with the plush Tadao Ando-designed Omotesando Hills shopping mall which reflects Omotesando’s transformation from hipster cool to unabashed luxury.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s all about shopping in Omotesando. From trendsetting popcorn shops and Ben and Jerry’s to Louis Vuitton, Burberry and the new Miu Miu and Yves Saint Laurent flagships the street is one big capitalist orgy. There are gyms, cafes and toy shops like the renowned (and dubiously named) Kiddy Land however the focus is very much on high fashion. The government may have plans to turn parts of Toranomon into Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées but Omotesando will always be the original and best.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT
It’s a very pretty area especially at Christmas time when the trees are decked out with gorgeous illuminations making it a romantic hot spot for most Tokyoites. However, due to the conspicuous absence of bars and nightclubs the street is basically empty after closing time. If locals and visitors want to party then it’s best to head to Shibuya which is a short walk or cab ride away.
It’s shop til you drop in Omotesando however the locals like to mix it up with some good restaurants found mostly in Omotesando Hills and café/bars such as the excellent Montoak which affords lovely views from its much sought-after patio area. If it all gets too much then take a leisurely stroll to Meiji shrine or Yoyogi Park(both minutes away from Harajuku station) where you can take it easy with a picnic and feel, at times, that you aren’t actually in the city at all.
YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH
From the breathtaking Herzog and de Meuron Prada building to the opulent art space Espace Louis Vuitton the area holds some major architectural interest. Add to this some very hip independent designer stores and the general glitz and glamour Omotesando is a rare occurrence of a well-designed and planned area completely at odds with the higgledy piggledy chaos of locations such as Shinjuku and Shibuya. It’s a luxurious area in a great part of town and once you take your first walk down the boulevard you’ll want to turn round and do it all over again.