Tokyo Area Guide: Akasaka 赤坂
Akasaka, which sits on more than 25 hills, is one of Tokyo's high-class districts, with numerous grand hotels, famous dining and entertainment establishments, concert spaces, the headquarters of Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) TV, luxury accommodation, and some impressive architecture.
Akasaka is a pleasant commercial district that offers hustle and bustle at one end, and quiet elegance at the other. Akasaka is the closest of any shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo to Japan's center of politics, Nagatacho and also adjoins Tokyo's liveliest nightlife district, Roppongi. Akasaka strikes a balance between the two, being more lively than Nagatacho, but more elegant than Roppongi. Akasaka is narrow cobbled stretches of non-stop bars and pubs, right next to some truly spectacular office towers, and with green, eminently walkable undulating streets of expensive housing and boutique shopping.
Akasaka, literally "red slope," is a corruption of akanesaka, or "madder slope," from the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum) which once grew there, its roots used to make red dye. Akasaka first appeared on the map with the establishment of the shogunate at the start of the 17th century based in Edo Castle (the present Kōkyo, or Imperial Palace), just north-east of Akasaka.
The area closest to Edo Castle is Akasaka-mitsuke, meaning Akasaka Guard Post, protecting Edo Castle's south-west corner. Akasaka-mitsuke is the lowest point of the hilly Akasaka district, and is where the lowlier retainers, warriors and menials lived, while the high ground further south (i.e., in the Roppongi direction) was home to the lords.
The nearby river was fashioned into a moat around Edo Castle, with some of it channeled into a pond used as a reservoir in present day Tameikesanno - Tameike meaning "dammed pond." The ready water supply meant a cluster of eateries developed in Tameikesanno, and in the post-feudal Meiji era (i.e., from 1868) Tameikesanno became a pleasure quarter, with well over 100 geisha houses by the 1930s, frequented by nearby Nagatacho bigwigs, among others.
After the Second World War, Akasaka regained its vitality with the establishment of numerous big hotels from the mid-1950s, the relocation to Akasaka of the TBS TV broadcasting headquarters, and a vibrant nightlife scene whose big names (Mugen, New Latin Quarter, etc.) lasted through to the 1980s. Akasaka is still fun in the evening, but now on a smaller, more neighborhood scale.
In keeping with its history, the low ground of Akasaka is still the more entertainment oriented, and the upper ground still more elegant. Akasaka's main, busy, brick-paved shopping streets are in Akasaka-mitsuke, parallel to Sotobori-dori Avenue that runs the length of Akasaka. They are Esplanade Akasaka Shopping Street, Akasaka Misuji-dori, and Hitotsugi-dori, all lined with hundreds of bars, restaurants, cafes, and lounges.
The higher ground of Akasaka is a pleasant undulating area that makes for very pleasant strolling and sightseeing if you want scenes of nicely landscaped, generally well designed, laid back, affluent inner city Tokyo living.
A little north is wide, green Akasaka Goyochi ("Akasaka Estate"), a large forested tract of land expanse most notable for its Akasaka Palace that now functions as the State Guesthouse (Geihinkan) for visiting foreign dignitaries.
The main shopping and dining area of Akasaka is across from the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu. There are many good pubs and restaurants and shops, and the area is full of patrons every night of the week until late.
The most notable building in Akasaka is the huge white Prudential Tower, also near the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu.
West of Sotobori-dori is a posse of pretty streets, local shopping complexes, cafes, restaurants, parks, gardens, embassies, and temples mostly all on a quiet, neighborhood scale.
Toyokawa Inari Temple 豊川稲荷東京別院
Toyokawa Inari Temple in Moto-Akasaka, very near Akasaka-mitsuke, is an interesting amalgam of Japanese religious sentiment and history: a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Shinto fox god (Inari). Toyokawa Inari Temple is a branch of the main Toyokawa Inari Temple located in Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture (about 60km south-east of Nagoya).
Toyokawa Inari Temple is the Tokyo temple for those in the arts and entertainment sectors, and is thronged with artists and entertainers every New Year's Eve.
The venerable Toraya confectionery shop, an Akasaka tradition, is just across Aoyama-dori from Toyokawa Inari Temple, and is a great stop for some green tea and Japanese sweets after your temple visit.
Read more about Toyokawa Inari Temple Akasaka
Akasaka Sacas is an urban renewal project otherwise known as the Akasaka 5-chome TBS Development Project, in front of Akasaka subway station, right in the middle of Akasaka. Akasaka Sacas was developed in 2008 by Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) around its already existing premises.
Akasaka Sacas comprises the following four buildings, plus a high rise residential building:
TBS Broadcasting Center, built in 1994, houses TBS studios. TBS operates twice-daily weekday tours of the broadcasting center for pupils from 5th year elementary school to 3rd year high school. (Tel. 03 3746-6666, 10am-5pm)
Biz Tower offers a wide range of mainly dining opportunities: restaurants, cafes, bars, bakeries, and
delicatessens, as well as boutiques, clinics and other stores on its
B1, 1, and 2 floors. The 39 floors that tower stylishly above it are
Akasaka Biz Tower Hours: 11am-9pm (most restaurants to 11.30pm).
The B3 floor of Akasaka Biz Tower has parking for 83 cars 6am-midnight (last entry 11pm), free for 1 hour if you spend 3,000 yen or more in a single Biz Tower store, 2 hours if you spend 5,000 yen or more.
Akasaka Blitz is a live performance space with a capacity of about 1,500 people (standing, somewhat less if seated), with a daily concert schedule featuring Japanese rock and pop.
Akasaka ACT Theater, right behind Akasaka Blitz, is an elegant, barrier-free theater seating 1,300 people with a schedule of drama, musicals, and ballet. Tel. 03-3589-2277
Akasaka Sacas is accessible from Akasaka subway station on the Chiyoda line (exits 1, 3a, 3b, and 7).
Tokyo Midtown is a shopping and cultural complex on the south-eastern corner of the Akasaka district, joining with the Roppongi district. Tokyo Midtown opened in 2007 and was developed by a consortium led by Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd. The green belt behind it is very attractively landscaped, and contains over 140 trees transplanted from when the site formed the grounds of the Defense Agency headquarters. Read more about Tokyo Midtown.
Ark Hills is the first of Tokyo's urban renewal projects, opened in 1986 by the Mori company that also built Roppongi Hills. Ark Hills straddles Akasaka and neighboring Roppongi.
Ark Hills was 19 years in the making, and was completed in 1986 (most of those years spent securing the needed land). Ark Hills incorporates three main buildings:
Suntory Hall is a concert hall forclassical music in Ark Hills, and boasts the collaboration of the conductor Herbert von Karajan in its acoustic and spatial design. The Ark Karajan Plaza outside the Hall is named in his honor.
Ark Mori Building, Ark Hills' main building, is a 37-story tower distinguished by seeming to be vertically split, making for the illusion of twin towers. Ark Mori Building contains the offices of many finance and trading companies, as well as Airbus, Societe Generale, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), and a large number, and range, of shops and restaurants.
ANA Intercontinental Tokyo Hotel is
a 37-story tower next to the Ark Mori Building. The ANA Intercontinental Tokyo has numerous bars, cafes, restaurants, salons and boutiques on its 1st to 6th floors.
Google Map to the ANA Intercontinental Hotel
Ark Hills has seven different gardens.
Ark Hills is accessible from two subway stations:
-for the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo Hotel side of Ark Hills: Exit 13 of Tameikesanno subway station (Namboku line, Ginza line)
-for the Ark Mori Building and Suntory Hall side of Ark Hills: Exit 3 of Roppongi Itchome subway station (Namboku line).
Akasaka Ward Office 赤坂地区総合支所
Akasaka has a branch office of the Minato Ward Office called Akasaka chiku sogo shisho in Japanese, on Aoyama-dori, accessible from Exit A of Akasakamitsuke station, and just over 500 meters west up Aoyama-dori.
Tel. 03 5413 7011; 8.30am-5pm, Mon-Fri.
Google Map to Minato Ward Office Akasaka Branch
Akasaka Palace occupies the large expanse of land known as Akasaka Goyochi, located in Moto Akasaka, at the very north of the Akasaka area. Akasaka Palace is a neo-baroque former imperial residence, completed in 1909, and has functioned as the State Guesthouse (Geihinkan) since 1974. The Geihinkan is easily visible from the Yotsuya Station area (JR Chuo Main Line, JR Chuo-Sobu line, Marunouchi Subway Line, Namboku Subway Line). The Geihinkan may be visited, but is sporadically closed to the public because of state functions there. Even when closed, it is still worth a look, even from the distance of the splendid wrought iron gates.
Togu Palace (former Ōmiya Palace), also on Akasaka Goyochi, is the home of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako.
Google Map to State Guesthouse (Geihinkan)
Foreign Embassies in Akasaka
Akasaka has nine national embassies, as well as the German Goethe-Institut Tokyo (7-5-56 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tokyo 107-0052. Tel. 03 3584 3201). Click on the names of the embassies below for more detailed information and maps.
The Embassy of the United States is about 200m north-east of Ark Hills. Grand and glowing gold, it was designed by the African-American architect, Norma Merrick Sklarek. The United States Embassy Tokyo is accessible from Tameike-Sanno subway station on the Ginza and Namboku lines. Unless you are going there on business, however, you cannot get too close without being asked to move away by one of the many police that surround it.
Bahrain Embassy. The Embassy of Bahrain is most easily accessed from Exit 13 of Tameikesanno station on the Nanboku and Ginza subway Lines, and Exit 13, Kokkai-gijidomae station on the Chiyoda and Marunouchi subway lines. Tel: 03 3584 8001
Cambodian Embassy. The Embassy of Cambodia is most easily accessed from Exit 3 of Aoyama-itchome station on the Ginza and Oedo subway lines, and Exit 1 of Nogizaka station on the Chiyoda Subway Line. Tel: 03 5412-8522
Canadian Embassy, on Aoyama-dori. The Embassy of Canada is most easily accessed from Exit 4 of Aoyama itchome subway station on the Ginza and Oedo lines. Tel. 03 5412 6200
Micronesia Embassy. The Embassy of the Federated States of Micronesia is most easily accessed from Exit 3 of Roppongi-itchome station on the Nanboku subway line, or Exit 13 of Tameikesanno station on the Chiyoda, Ginza, Marunouchi and Nanboku subway lines. Tel. 03 3585 5456
Lebanon Embassy. The Embassy of Lebanon is most easily accessed from Exit 13 of Tameikesanno station on the Nanboku and Ginza subway Lines, and Exit 13, Kokkai-gijidomae station on the Chiyoda and Marunouchi subway lines. Tel: 03 5114 9950
Lesotho Embassy. The Embassy of Lesotho is most easily accessed from Exit 3, Aoyama-itchome subway station on the Ginza and Oedo lines. Tel: 03 3584 7455
Syria Embassy.The Embassy of Syria is most easily accessed from Exit 2 of Nogizaka Station on the Chiyoda subway line. Tel: 03 3586 8977/8
Togo Embassy. The Embassy of Togo is most easily accessed from Exit 4 of Aoyama-Itchome station on the Hanzomon and Oedo subway lines. Tel: 03 6426 5266
The Goethe-Institut Tokyo is in Akasaka. The Goethe-Institut Tokyo offers a wide range of Japanese-language information on Germany, sponsors seminars on various aspects of German life and culture, and also has a cafe on the first floor, towards the back of the building.
Goethe-Institut Tokyo, 7-5-56 Akasaka, Tokyo 107-0052
Tel. 03 3584 3201; Fax 03 3586 3069
Google Map to the Goethe Institute Tokyo
Hotels in Akasaka
The following is a cross-budget selection of the many hotels in Akasaka.
The 487-room Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu is one of the most centrally located hotels in Akasaka.
The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Luxury Collection Hotel is just north of Akasaka-mitsuke Station, and is part of the beautiful Tokyo Garden Terrace development featuring the elegant old Kitashirkawa Palace, now renovated as a restaurant. Next to it is the Hotel New Otani Tokyo the Main, an international class hotel incorporating a lot of shopping and dining, and with an art museum.
Even nearer Roppongi is the more economical Akaksaka Yoko Hotel.
Akasaka can be accessed from the following subway stations, listed in approximate order of proximity to the Akasaka central business district. Note that some stations are linked to each other, i.e. directly accessible from each other without going up to ground level.
-Akasakamitsuke station (accessible from Nagatacho station) on the Marunouchi and Ginza lines
-Nagatacho station (accessible from Akasakamitsuke station) on the Yurakucho, Nanboku and Hanzomon lines.
-Akasaka Station on the Chiyoda line.
-Tameikesanno station (accessible from Kokkaigijidomae station) on the Marunouchi and Chiyoda lines.
-Kokkaigijidomae station (accessible from Tameikesanno station) on the Marunouchi and Chiyoda lines.
The major entertainment district of Roppongi is a few minutes walk south and south-west of Akasaka.