Tokyo Guide: Azabu
Tokyo Area Guide: Azabu 麻布
Moto-Azabu with Moto-Azabu Forest Hills Tower (right) and Roppongi Hills (center distance)
For the Westerner living in Tokyo, perhaps nowhere has more that taste of back home than Minato ward's Azabu area. In Azabu, the earthiness, and even decrepitude, of old Tokyo blend into a landscape of serious old wealth. Some of Tokyo's most expensive real estate can be found here, lining crooked, narrow slopes - half hidden away. This is an elegant part of the metropolis that yet retains something of the ramshackle, giving Azabu its special charm.
Azabu's quiet neighborhoods are chockablock with intimate Western-style restaurants and cafes, partly reflecting the scores of foreign embassies the area is home to and the large population of foreign business people who live here. Unlike many wealthy areas of Tokyo, however, prices are generally reasonable. The Azabu area is low key, "neighborhood" to the core, with few of the urban development projects that dot many nearby areas of Tokyo.
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Tokyo Tower, in the Shiba-Koen area of Minato ward, is a handy landmark defining the Azabu area's eastern limit. The nearest station to the north-east corner of the Azabu area is Kamiyacho subway station on the Hibiya line. 6-7 minutes walk south out of Exit 2, and you are in Azabu-dai 1-chome.
Azabu Post Office & Shakaden Hall, Reiyukai
The splendid Azabu Post Office, built in 1930, faces Gaien Higashi-dori Avenue. Azabu Post Office is flanked to the west by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building. 100m east of Azabu Post Office on the other side of the road is the Russian Embassy. A little along, facing Iikura intersection, is the Noa Building with its massive brick facade base, and the Fijian Embassy on its 14th floor.
Just north-east of the Azabu Post Office is the massive pyramid-like Shakaden ("Buddha Hall") - the cathedral of the Buddhist Reiyukai sect, completed in 1975.
Just across the road from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, and up Ueki-zaka slope is the annex of the Bridgestone Museum of Art nestled amongst trees. The Azabu-nagasaka-cho Bridgestone annex has a limited collection that, according to the Museum, can be viewed by arrangement.
Note that this is not the main Bridgestone Museum of Art. The main Bridgestone museum is in Kyobashi, east of Tokyo Station.
Akabanebashi station on the Odeo subway line is in Higashi-Azabu, forming the easternmost point of the whole Azabu area. The Cuban Embassy is just a few minutes walk from Akabanebashi station.
Azabu Juban ("Juban" pronounced joo-bahn) is the most famous part of the Azabu area as the traditional hub of the Azabu area's shopping.
Azabu Juban is where you can savor the sights, sounds and smells of the Tokyo of 300 years ago. Typical of the area are its taiyaki ('carp bake') shops selling carp-shaped confectioneries, soba noodle restaurants, antique shops, and rakugo performances. It is also liberally sprinkled with Western-style restaurants and cafes, bakeries, fashion boutiques, pet grooming salons, and florists. Ghosts of Azabu and Roppongi past are neatly documented in Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld.
Nissin World Delicatessen is just two traffic lights east of Azabu Juban station, in the neighboring Higashi-Azabu district. Nissin has all those familiar foods from back home, and exotic ones you've maybe never heard of - and at generally reasonable prices. Nissin is open from 9am to 9pm every day, and has ample, free car parking.
A little west of Azabu-Juban is the even older and more ramshackle Moto-Azabu. A stroll through the colorful, sloping streets of Moto-Azabu will give you an even more vivid image of how Tokyo used to look. Moto-Azabu's one major nod to modernity is the Moto-Azabu Forest Hills Tower, with its distinctive profile bulging outwards from halfway up. Beyond, to the north, is another striking contrast with Moto-Azabu's general landscape: that icon of modern Tokyo, Roppongi Hills, towering over it just a stone's throw away.
Zenpukuji Temple 善福寺
Further south in Moto Azabu, just south of the Austrian Embassy, is Zenpuku-ji Temple, also known as Azabu-san. Zenpukuji Temple is at the top of Kurayamizaka Slope, which it shares with half a dozen other temples, but is the grandest presence there. Right behind Zenpukuji is the 29-floor Moto-Azabu Forest Hills Tower - a handy landmark.
Also, perhaps explaining why present day Azabu has so many embassies, Zenpukuji housed the first legation from the United States to Japan in the nineteenth century, led by Townsend Harris (1804-1878) the first US Consul General in Japan.
Furthermore, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), one of Japan's great modernizers and the founder of Keio University, is buried at Zenpukuji Temple.
Zenpukuji Temple has Tokyo's oldest ginkgo tree: a great, hoary thing with a history of over seven centuries, and that survived a hit by an incendiary bomb in World War II.
Cross Terebi Asahi Dori (TV Asahi Avenue) into Nishi-Azabu for the Laos Embassy, the Romanian Embassy, the Greek Embassy, and the Ukraine Embassy - all less than 10 minutes walk from Roppongi Hills. Further south is the Swiss Embassy.
A little south-west of Azabu-juuban and at the end of Terebi Asahi Dori (TV Asahi Avenue) - about 10 minutes walk south of Roppongi Hills - is Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park (picture at top), containing the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library. The park was the former preserve of feudal lords and nobles, and features beautiful woods for strolling through, placid streams, waterfalls, and many wild birds.
Korinji Temple 光林寺
Korinji Temple is about 10 minutes walk south of Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, and next to the French Embassy. Korinji was founded in 1678, and moved to its present position from nearby in 1694.
Korinji is notable for having the graves of two interpreters: a Dutchman and a Japanese. Henry Heusken (1832-1861) was the young Dutch-born interpreter for Townshend Harris, the first American Consul General in Japan. He ignored Townsend's warning not to go riding in the area at night, and was killed by members of the sonno joi ("Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian") Japanese nationalist movement.
Also buried here is Dankichi, a Japanese castaway, who had lived in the USA and China and was an interpreter for British Consul Rutherford Alcock. The low born Dankichi was resented for his haughty attitude by his fellow Japanese and cut down on the steps of the British Legation in 1860.
Korinji is known for its beautiful cherry blossom in season.
Google Map to Korinji Temple
Also just south of Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park is the German Embassy, further south is the French Embassy, and to the south-east are the Pakistan Embassy, the Embassy of Finland, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, and the Embassy of Iran.
Azabu Local Ward Office 麻布地区総合支所
Azabu Local Ward Office is a branch office of the Minato Ward Office, called Azabu chiku sogo shisho in Japanese. The Azabu Local Ward Office address is not actually in Azabu proper, but in neighboring Roppongi.
Turn right out of Exit 7 of Azabujuban station, right at the next traffic light (don't cross the road), and its about a five minute walk.
Or turn right out of Exit 3 of Roppongi station, turn right into Gaien-Higashi-dori, right at the next traffic light (Roppongi 5-chome intersection) and it's a one minute walk, on your left.
5-16-45 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8515
Tel. 03 3583 4151; 8.30am-5pm, Mon-Fri.
For a full listing of Tokyo Museums & Art Galleries click here
Hotels in Azabu
The 193-room APA Hotel Nishi Azabu in Nishi-Azabu is a plain, clean hotel with small rooms, but reasonably priced.