Aoyama and Roppongi Hills Walking Tour

December 6, 2012 by

Asia, City Tours & Sightseeing, Travel Advice & Inspiration, Walking Tours

When you want dig in and get to know a neighborhood a little better, there’s no better way to do it than take to the streets on foot.  And after getting an overview of Tokyo, I decided to get up close and personal with it by spending some time exploring some of the neighborhoods. While I don’t think you can go wrong exploring any of the Tokyo neighborhoods, I opted for a tour because it would give me a chance to take a look at the modern side of the city. The tour lasts about three and a half hours and covers a couple miles on foot. It’s not a strenuous walk, but be prepared with comfy shoes and a bottle of water.

We met up with our guide in the lobby of the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. Her name was Michiko, just like the empress, she said, and there would be no signs or flags on this tour. All we needed to do was follow her red jacket and we would be just fine. Follow her we did, heading off to the subway and our Aoyama and Roppongi Hills walking tour.

Aoyama Cemetery

The Aoyama neighborhood is an interesting juxtaposition of modern entertainment, fashion, and shopping, nestled right up next to decades of tradition and history. A walk through the Aoyama Cemetery, Japan’s first public cemetery, brings home the way in which traditional practices and rituals of Buddhism and Shinto are woven into the fabric of modern life.

The burial of ashes follows elaborate traditions and rituals and memorial services are held on multiple days during the first 100 days after death. The memorials continue to be held on the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 12th, and 32nd year following the death, and we saw some of these memorials as we walked through.  Many of the burial plots and crypts featured small, cement temple-like structures featuring characters representing the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Spirit. It is believed that as these elements influenced your life, so they will influence your afterlife.

Hachiko grave

Hachiko’s grave

One of the famous graves in the cemetery is Hidesaburo Ueno and his dog Hachiko, a golden brown Akita. Every day when Ueno returned from his job at the University of Tokyo, Hachiko would be waiting for him at the Shibuya Station. It was a daily routine reuniting man and dog. One day, however, Ueno dies and did not return to the station. For the next nine years Hachiko went to the station, dutifully waiting for the master who would never return. At first, the waiting dog did not receive a friendly reception from residents, but over time Hachiko’s enduring loyalty became a national theme. The cemetery plot holding the remains of Hidesaburo Uneo also contains a monument Hachiko.

Tip: The cemetery is full of cherries trees and during March and April is a popular spot for enjoying the traditional Japanese cherry blossoms.

Nogi Shrine

Wedding ceremony at Nogi Shrine

Wedding ceremony at Nogi Shrine

Walking to the Nogi shrine complex brought about a bit of travel serendipity. Several weddings were taking place and we had a chance to watch and take photos. From the processions of the happy couple and their family and friends, to a chance to eavesdrop on a ceremony itself, it was fun to feel like a guest at the wedding.

Michiko explained a few wedding traditions: A traditional “hat” is worn by the bride before the ceremony and removed once married, paralleling somewhat the use of a bridal veil. As a guest at a wedding you receive a gift from the bride and groom. It’s common to see these white gift bags (quite like the size of a department store shopping bag) being carried around.

Roppongi

Mirrored Ritz-Carlton Tokyo

Mirrored Ritz-Carlton

My favorite stop was a look at the diversity of this midtown neighborhood well known for its public art, upscale shopping, gardens, and nightlife. Our walk took us down streets with high rise office buildings and condos, past shops filled with Louis Vuitton and Georgio Armani, by restaurants and cafes, and by every kind of shop and business in between. Make no mistake about it, the Roppongi neighborhood of Tokyo is young, hip, and trendy with lots of discretionary yen to spend.

Hinokicho Park in Roppongi

Hinokicho Park

We stopped by Hinokicho Park, a garden that once belonged to a wealthy Tokyo family, giving us a chance to rest up a bit and to appreciate the blending of commercial space with open green spaces, and then headed over to experience the shopping buzz of Roppongi Hills. This mega-complex is home to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, with its dramatic mirror entry way, more restaurants, cafes, and shops than you can shake a stick at. The prices are as high as its 56-stories, but budget in a treat for yourself from one of many gourmet options you’ll find here.

Tip: The walking tour ends here, so plan to stay on for dinner or drinks. Or, pick up some take out from one of the many foods shops located throughout the complex. It’s worth it!

Photos courtesy of Mary Jo Manzanares.

 – Mary Jo Manzanares

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