Tokyo on Foot: Exploring Aoyama
Much like New York, Tokyo is a city that is made for walking. Sure there are ample taxis, efficient buses and regular, well organized trains to help traverse this sprawling metropolis. But the city itself is carved out from once huge temple complexes and imperial gardens that give it an amazing amount of green space, perfect for a stroll.
My go-to walk in the city naturally enough starts in my neighborhood, a leafy spot just shy of Shibuya. The only hill is right outside my door, and it takes me up to and across Roppongi Dori. From here on it is a flat course that takes in so much that is good about living in Tokyo.
You know you live in a cool place when either side of the road houses a jazz club. On my left is Body and Soul and a little further along is Blue Note. It is quite baffling that there always seem to be people outside them, no matter what the time of day. A few strides further down the sidewalk and it’s time to cross Koto Dori, with its bespoke shoe and clothing shops and European furniture specialists. Fortunately for the power walker, the large glass windows allow for on-the-go voyeurism and design envy.
Ahead the pace changes, with the elegant, low profile Nezu museum and its magnificent stand of bamboo. It is a sight that makes one inhale slowly and exhale loudly. If time permits, the gardens beyond this beautiful structure are worth a visit. But most days it’s onwards and over the bridge connecting both sides of Gaien Nishi Dori, which runs nonstop underneath.
Aoyama Cemetery is ahead. Turn up into the middle of the cemetery, where the trees on either side of the road cool things down considerably. The road is narrow and well used, and the sidewalk is busy with runners, rollerbladers and “mama chariots” taking the short cut up to Aoyama Dori. Roughly half way up the drive is the foreigner’s cemetery, where a plaque commemorates the contributions of foreigners to the opening and development of Tokyo as a modern city. A lazy wander through the graves is both enlightening and sentimental.
Outside the cemetery, we venture back into the hustle and bustle of the city. Cross Aoyama Dori and turn down into the grand avenue of ginko trees that is the entrance to the capital’s sporting precinct known as the Meiji Jingu Gaien. Once again, the span of the trees’ branches really brings the temperature down, and the wide paths are a joy to walk on. Ahead is the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery and lawn. This stately gallery contains important cultural portraits and historical scenes from the Meiji era, and is well worth a visit.
If it’s early enough, before 7:30 a.m., join in the calisthenics class. Older Tokyo citizens bend and sway to the instructions coming from an 80s-era cassette player, and are very welcoming. This is the three-kilometer mark. I turn left. Statistically, most people when faced with a choice would turn right. Not me. There is not usually much traffic here, but again the sidewalks can be busy. On the left is the rugby ground and the baseball stadium, which is nearly always ringing out with the ping of batting practice or the roar and rhythmic chants of the crowds. Further down the street, the national stadium and national ice skating rink are reminders of the golden year when Tokyo last hosted the Olympics (1964).
The path is a circuit around the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery and is densely wooded on that side. Hidden from view are kendo halls, tennis courts, and driving ranges. Rounding the bend to complete the circle is the enticing sight of a combination beer garden and children’s playground, complete with waterfall. From here it is a quick few steps back to the oldies and their exercises. The circuit is 1.3 kilometers. Time to decide how many circuits to do to meet the day’s challenge. For me it is usually three. Then I retrace my steps through the cemetery and back home. According to my self validating iPhone app, this walk through my little part of Tokyo is around ten kilometers. I thoroughly recommend it.
Map it out: To follow this walking route on a map, see below or click here to open in Google Maps.
More info: For additional information on the places mentioned above, please see the official websites of Body and Soul, the Blue Note Tokyo, the Nezu Museum, Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, and Meiji Jingu Gaien.