Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Emily Chang
As one of the most influential soft powers in the world, Japan is an archipelago of cultural wealth and products (and perhaps, has the coolest superhero–the Ninja) that are not only big in Japan. The Shinkansen, Manga, Sony, BAPE, and of course, Sushi, are just a few exports that have earned their places in the world and some, in the English dictionary and Cartoon Network. And these, are quite the soft diplomatic solutions that have put Japan in the world’s good graces, and acted as a chamomile lubricant where tension might have existed (China might not cease their fight for the disputed islands, but Chinese teenagers have no qualms embracing the latest BAPESTA into their world). And it is in this country where “Made In Japan” equates not to production origin, but to an assuring quality and devotion to craft, that its capital, Tokyo, acts as the command center that bridges Japan to the rest of the world.
Tokyo is one not only home to the Koshitsu (Imperial Family), it is also notorious for being the most expensive city in the world, but for good reason. Tokyo is perhaps one of the most vibrant spots in the world with arguably the best culinary spread, a city of trendsetting residents, and an interesting juxtaposition of technology, art as well as history and culture.
For the fourth installment of Fresh Destination, and also the first for 2011, Freshness andMarvin Chow of Google will be taking everyone through the coveted, the known and the lesser known wonderful places for retail therapy, gastronomy and more. As a resident of Tokyo as well as a globetrotter, the places Chow has lived is quite as extensive and artistic as his resume. Prior to his current gig as the Asia Pacific Marketing Director for Google, the self-dubbed ” nomad, gun for hire, passionate dreamer…“ was a veteran of household names such as Nike, Reebok, Nickelodeon. Having worked through Nike as Marketing Director of Nike Korea, Nike Japan and Nike Greater China, Chow was an indispensable major player in leading some of the most memorable campaigns such as the Tokyo launch of Nike Sportswear, the 2008 Mt. Fuji Human Race, and multiple, multi-city summer campaigns and tours featuring Kobe, LeBron and Chris Paul.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the city of Tokyo with a fork in one hand, a credit card in another, and a great pair of kicks.
6-14-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku,
Designed by hip Japanese design firm Wonderwall headed by Katayama-san, Nike Harajuku was one of the projects Chow had a hand in. This is Nike’s first flagship store in Tokyo, and features ” three full floors of sports.“ It is both “an athlete’s and designer’s dream experience filled with athlete appearances, nighttime running clubs and iconic sports art”. The suspended sea of sneakers and racing tag chandelier are some impressive sights that greet the store’s visitors and take their breathes away. But, according to Chow, the beauty of the space lies in it’s commitment to customization with Japan’s largest NIKEiD studio. If you want to cook up a pair of white/white ostrich and alligator AF1 like Chow, this will be the place to go.
101-26-7 Daikanyama, Shiguya-ku
Set in Daikanyama, denim connoisseurs can find the best denim (made in Japan of course) in the world at the small cottage-like space of UES. UES has a cozy feel that only a true craftsman would work in, and it carries a carefully curated collection of denim. However, UES specializes in four types of jeans, and are especially known for those designed to fit and only come ” stiff, brand new, and pretty dark “. These are the jeans that will be an investment of a lifetime as they are the ones that will be perfect once broken in. The process of breaking into a pair of denim could take at least a year, but these will soon becomes the softest denim.
3-17-11 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku,
Right off the high society, tree-lined Omotesando-dori is an amazing concept store, Loveless. Take a tip from Chow and ” navigate your way down the cavernous and unexpected stairwell and you will find four floors of high end brands, pop-up shops and the latest in Tokyo collaborations. The striking thing about Loveless is the “ironic clash of design and culture “. The dungeon-like setting is a gorgeous backdrop to an ” emerging, vivid and fearless expression of modern design “. Aside from a collection to fire up a will to shop, Loveless also carries a wonderful library of reads.
12-18 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku,
If you like making things and getting down and dirty with crafts, Tokyu Hands is an eight-floor extravaganza that promises a world of DIY that goes beyond glue gun and glitter paste. The goods in the store are slightly random, and boasts to be a “creative life store”. Tokyu Hands not only ” has the pulse of the everyday Tokyo-ite “ and is also responsible for a number of mass consumer product booms. This is the place to go if you love the idea of function and DIY, and is the great everyday shop to find goods that ” represent the imagination and ingenuity of living in Tokyo “.
Harajuku Gyoza Lou
6-2-4 Jingumae, Harajuku, Shibuya-ku
In a small side alley off Cat Street, tucked quietly into a corner with two other amazing restaurants, Harajuku Gyoza Lou, as its name suggests, serves up a mean, steaming platter of dumplings– fried and steamed. With a simple counter surrounding a set of ” awesome, custom-made gyoza frying machines “, the spot is crawling with hip yet unpretentious crowd. As with all popular and delicious places in Japan, there is almost always a line, but the wait is worthwhile for those who enjoy gyoza. Chow recommends the steamed gyoza with garlic and a side of cucumbers.
Kaikaya By The Sea
23-7 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku
” Traditional Japanese seafood with a contemporary twist “ is the perhaps the most straightforward way to describe Kaikaya By The Sea in a sentence. The small restaurant buzzes with a family vibe and it promises the tastiest and freshest seafood one can get (fresh being quite a key feature for good seafood). Ippei-san, the “jolly mananger” greets customers warmly and brings out course after course, featuring signature dishes like the Maguro (tuna) neck and mayonnaise shrimp. This will be a big meal, so come hungry, and a non-eating related tip from Chow– ” don’t forget to bring a cool sticker for the living art door “.
1-4-36 Rojiman Nishiazabu 1F, Nishiazabu Minato-ku
Aside from sushi, one other speciality not to be missed when in Japan is ramen, which is quite a difficult culinary art form to master. On the backside of Nishiazabu, Nishiazabu Gogyo is a ” designer“ ramen shop which ” specializes in a charred, burnt miso ramen“ perfected with a golden mix of pork broth, mayu oil (sesame oil), crushed garlic and a variety of toppings. Chow’s favorite is served with pork belly and straight noodles.
1-10-23 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku
Looking for old New York in Tokyo is as easy as making one’s way to Combine Cafe at the quiet end of the Meguro River, and is a favorite among Tokyo fashion hipsters. Combine Cafe sparkles with a subtle industrial interior and a generous open air space. Walls lined with bookcases is well stocked with art, design and culture books, giving the space a little bit of contemporary edge and warmth. Sure, the vibe might be all old downtown New York, but the menu is eclectic and comes with both Japanese staples and ethnic inspired dishes. But, Chow prefers the fried chicken.
21_21 Design Sight
9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku,
21_21 Design Sight is set behind Tokyo Midtown, the famous luxury mall erected in the late 2000s, and is not only an exhibition space, but also a discussion forum for both Japanese and international design work. Founded by renowned architect, Tadao Ando and fashion designer, Issey Miyake, 21_21 brings design to the masses and ” simplifies the impact it has on our lives “, making things accessible for all. Chow shares an anecdote– ” I still remember there is an opening exhibit in 2007–chocolate– and how it took a person’s simple love for this everyday sweet and designed an unimaginable world around it. When you start with the idea of life through design, the possibilities are endless “.
f.i.g. Bike Harajuku
2-33-5-1/2F Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo is a biking city, and whether you are more of a commuter or a fixed gear person, f.i.g. Bike Harajuku set in the trendy Shibuya-Ku has something for you. Like New Yorkers have their favorite watering holes and bagel shops, cyclists in Tokyo have their personal reliable bike shops, and this is Chow’s for living in Jingumae. It is minutes away from Yoyogi Park and comes with all your daily riding essentials as well as some of Tokyo’s limited and exclusive products.
9-83, Ueno Park, Taito-ku
Not only the oldest and best zoos in Tokyo, Ueno Zoo is quite a tourist magnet for the rest of the world as well. For Chow, the zoo is not just a place to check out rare animals foreign to the city, but a ” zen place “ to escape in a city of 12 million strong. The Ueno Zoo opened in 1882 and maintains a quaint and rustic feel which makes it quite a relaxing and easy excursion.
Yoyogi-Kamizono-cho, Jinnan 2-chome, Shibuya Ward
In a concrete jungle, parks and greenery are perhaps the most priceless (or pricey) oasis, and those coming from New York would know just how rare trees are as commodities, not to mention, well manicured ones. In Tokyo, a city known for cleanliness, it is not surprising to find a vast array of beautifully manicured gardens and parks. Yoyogi Park is one of the ” free-est and youth oriented places in Japan “. On weekends, when the sun is out, groups will be shooting some hoops, couples will be strolling around hand-in-hand, and sometimes, wannabe idol bands will be performing. Unlike other parks in Tokyo though, Yoyogi Park offers a free entrance and is dog friendly. A wondering pocket of youth energy and freedom in Tokyo.