As a foreigner living in Tokyo, the cultural differences offered by Japan in regard to its food, fashion and general atmosphere mean there is almost always something new to experience and explore nearby.
But while this creates much of the appeal for a life in the capital, or Japan in general, there often comes a time when people long for a taste of their past lives back home. Whether they miss a specific meal they used to enjoy in their home country, or simply wish to surround themselves with a more westernized atmosphere, it’s understandable for foreigners to seek out such places at times. Places like Hiroo.
Located only a short distance from Shibuya and home to a large number of foreign embassies, over the years, Hiroo has developed itself into hub for expats where you can now find a slew of international tastes and trends on offer.
Catering to tastebuds from around the world, the food on offer in and around Hiroo Shopping Street is sure to have something for everyone, regardless of your dietary requirements or where you’re from.
Here you’ll find the Indian restaurant Priya, Arabian food at Zenobia and a staple of the Hiroo food scene, the famous Homework’s.
Founded in 1985 and branded as the first gourmet hamburger and sandwich restaurant in Japan, Homework’s says it delivers an authentic taste of the United States, while also providing food and services that allows customers to feel the warmth of home.
For those with a sweet tooth, tucked away just off Hiroo Shopping Street is also where you’ll find Hal Okada Vegan Sweets Lab. A small establishment dedicated to the creation of vegan cakes, puddings, fruit sandwiches and other confectionary goods, all made with 100 percent plant-derived ingredients.
Finally, across the intersection at the end of Hiroo Shopping Street is where you can enjoy the refined baked goods of Truffle Bakery. With a philosophy aimed at delivering the best product it can to its customers, Truffle Bakery prides itself on the use of sustainable, non-artificial ingredients in its truffle-infused creations.
A Pocket of Nature
No Tokyo hotspot would be complete without some lush green parkland tucked in amongst the concrete. Hiroo is no exception.
While once the site of a villa used by the Japanese feudal lord, Minonokami Nambu, Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park was developed into a public recreational area back in 1934. Since then, visitors and residents have been spoilt with a landscape of water, play areas and greenery that complements and accentuates the area’s natural topography.
The park is located only five minutes from Hiroo Shopping Street. During summer, irises and hydrangeas can be seen in full bloom, while at the lake, turtles can be spotted sunning themselves on the rocks by the bank. As spring arrives, the area also becomes a great spot to relax amongst the ever-popular cherry blossoms.
For foreigners living in Japan, it can often be the little things that make us miss home. Perhaps it’s the snacks we used to regularly buy, or even your favorite laundry liquid. But whatever creature comfort it may be that leaves you longing for home, if there’s anywhere in Tokyo that’s going to have it, it’s National Azabu.
Situated directly across the road from Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, National Azabu features two stories of imported food, drinks and homewares from around the world. But do note, as is often the case with imported goods, when you do find that packet of Hershey’s dipped pretzels, or the jar of Vegemite you’ve gone so long without, chances are it will be more expensive than back home.
For those with wheels, National Azabu also offers on-site parking which is free for 60 minutes when you spend over ¥2,000 in store and free for 90 minutes when you spend over ¥5,000.
Azabusan Zenpukuji Temple
Approximately 15 minutes on foot from National Azabu is the ornate temple of Azabusan Zenpukuji. Originally established over 1,200 years ago, this temple, seemingly hidden by the surrounding buildings, is one of the most ancient temples in Tokyo.
Founded by the renowned Kobo Daishi as a temple of the Shingon school of Buddhism, the temple grounds are also home to the oldest tree in Tokyo. The 750-year-old ginkgo tree is said to have been planted in a spot designated by the monk, Shinran, during his visit to the temple.
In keeping with Hiroo’s history of foreign settlement and influence, Azabusan Zenpukuji is also known as the first Tokyo Legation of the United States, where in 1859, the Shogunate appointed American diplomat Townsend Harris as the first United States Consul General to Japan. It was a historical moment that has been immortalized with a monument just inside the temple grounds.
While foreign influence can be seen throughout much of Hiroo, there are still places in which traditional Japanese culture is upheld above all else. Places such as the Yamatane Museum of Art.
Focusing mainly on the display and exhibition of nihonga, a general term for traditional Japanese paintings, the museum typically displays five to six different exhibitions each year, with paintings selected according to particular themes.
The museum also holds collections of ancient Japanese calligraphy and ukiyoe, making it a must-see for art lovers wishing to get a glimpse into a bygone era of Japanese creativity.
A fairly central location, Hiroo can be reached from Shibuya station in under 15 minutes by taking the Toyoko Line to Nakameguro Station, then transferring to the Hibiya Line until reaching Hiroo Station.
Photos by Ben Cooke