Long associated with affluence and the wealthy, fashion-conscious “Shiroganese” (a reference to the “Milanese” of Italy), Shirokane offers some surprisingly delightful attractions that defy its reputation.
The Garden of Tokyo
Shirokane proudly declares itself as one of the greener areas of Tokyo, and having numerous parks and spaces punctuating the concrete, quite rightly so. Just a short walk up from Shirokanedai Station, The Institute for Nature Study is undoubtedly one of the main reasons to visit the area. Limited to only 300 people at one time in order to prevent overcrowding, this is a surprisingly vast oasis given its location. Completely removing you from the city, the winding pathway takes you around several ponds and rest points along the way, allowing you to enjoy the lushness at your leisure.
Another worthwhile garden and building is just next door at the recently renovated Art Deco-style Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, the interior of which, having avoided any significant changes, remains an attraction in itself. There is also Happo-en, a large wedding reception complex that also features a restaurant and café from which to view the beauty of its surroundings. You can easily find yourself spending a whole day in these locations alone.
History in Abundance
On the face of it, Shirokane very much toes the line that residential areas cater more for those living there rather than offering any real draws for visitors. Certainly an abundance of pricey and modern apartment blocks dominate the landscape, and while it’s fair to say shrines or temples may not appeal much to the hardened Tokyoite, the area does have a large number of them, all within close proximity to each other and well worth a look, such as Ryugyo-ji (2-2-6 Shirokane) and Choshu-ji (2-1-16 Shirokane). Kakurinji (also known as Seishoko, 1-1-47 Shirokanedai) and Zuishoji (3-2-19 Shirokanedai) both feature on the “Seven Lucky Gods” pilgrimage between Meguro and Shirokane-Takanawa, where visitors can buy small lucky god figurines at each destination.
From faux European looking buildings to modern glass façades, Shirokane features an impressive range of architectural styles nestled amongst typically bland condominiums. Some unique structures can be found at two of the major universities in the area, Meiji Gakuin and Tokyo University’s Institute of Medical Science (which also houses its own small medical science museum in what once functioned as a stable). The latter’s stately first building evokes a feeling of grandeur, while the eclectic mix of styles at Meiji Gakuin includes three buildings designated as “Historical Buildings and Sites of Scenic Importance”: the late 19th century neo-Gothic Memorial Hall; The Imbrie Pavilion (a wooden, American-style residence also from the 19th century); and the early 20th century Meiji Gakuin Chapel. These are juxtaposed with the more bizarre, brutalized designs of the two lecture halls.
A Taste of Taisho
While the main drag of Platinum Street has you covered for enjoying lunch on a tree-lined boulevard with its diverse offerings such as Kiwi Kitchen, Oslo Coffee or Cafe La Bohéme, tucked away amongst the maze of side streets are various small bars and eateries that pride themselves on being discovered by word of mouth rather than any advertising in the media. While nowhere near as attractive a street, the traffic-heavy Shirokane Kitazato-dori shopping street features a lot of early 20th century buildings, housing bars and restaurants such as Quienquiera, built in 1918 and looking like it hasn’t changed much since. The exterior and interior may clash with the neighborhood’s image, but after sampling a selection from its extensive drinks list and taking in the cozy atmosphere, you’ll soon realize that no area should ever be taken at face value.
Words and photographs by Stephan Jarvis