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Hiroo is a quiet and upscale neighbourhood nestled among the other glitzy and well known neighbourhoods of Roppongi, Shibuya, Ebisu and Shinagawa. The district is known for having a high concentration of embassies and consulates, and consequently, there is quite an international air in this area.
I went on an easy walking tour of Hiroo and part of the nearby Shirokanedai neighbourhood on an early winter's day. My route started from Meguro Station on the JR Yamanote Line from where it was a short walk to the Teien Art Museum, the former residence of Prince Asaka who commissioned artists to incorporate the Art Deco style into the design of his home. In addition to being a place to see some elegant designs and gain an insight into the living space of Prince Asaka, the museum hosts various interesting exhibitions through the year.
There was something unique and different to see in each room. It was very pleasant to walk through the residence, and I marveled at the Prince and Princess' aesthetic tastes. However, I also felt like I was intruding a little as I walked around, inspecting the former living quarters and imagining how the space would have been used back in the day. One thing that mildly surprised me was that most of the rooms were of average size and not massive as I had imagined. The garden surrounding the residence was also a highlight and a comfortable place to spend some time or for a stroll through on a nice day.
After that dose of modern culture, I got on the main road towards Hiroo. Along the way, I stopped at Chocolatier Erica, a Tokyo-chocolate institution, for a cup of hot chocolate. This place has been around for over 30 years and is the place where many locals go to for their chocolate fix. I watched the steady stream of customers buy their holiday chocolate, though it seemed more for personal consumption than for giving away. Of course, I didn't leave without getting some chocolate for myself as well.
As I made my way under the expressway and closer to Hiroo, the scenery changed a little and started looking quite residential with a shitamachi (lower town) feel thanks to the presence of businesses like drug stores, dry-cleaning services, green grocers and restaurants.
It wasn't long before I found myself in Hiroo proper and got down to exploring the neighbourhood. The main street perpendicular to the station was where majority of the shops are located, but the short alleys provided lots of interesting views. Befitting of its international neighbourhood label, I saw lots of international shops and restaurants. The National Azabu and Meidi-ya supermarkets not far from Hiroo Station carry a large selection of international foods, making sure that there's something for anyone who goes.
Visitors to the Hiroo district would be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining. From instagram-worthy sweets to cute food stands, there are just so many options available here. I popped into a number of shops to check out their offerings like how I imagined a resident might do.
Lunch was at Hiroo's Curry, one of the narrowest restaurants I've ever been to. In fact, I walked past the restaurant the first time and tried opening the wrong door the second time before getting it right on the third. Inside the tiny restaurant, the friendly owner-chef cooks up a mean plate of curry. Diners can choose from rice or noodles, and I went for a plate of vegetable curry rice which was served up in no time.
If the international scene is getting too much for you, consider going to Funabashiya Koyomi, a traditional Japanese sweets store with over 200 years of history. The store specializes in kuzukiri, an arrowroot (kudzu) starch cake, which is incorporated into a variety of sweets. I was delighted to be able to visit the cafe, only in Hiroo, on the second floor and was grateful to sit down for some kuzukiri desserts.
To end my day in Hiroo, I visited the local sento, a public bath house, a short walk from the station. The last time I visited a public bath on a Chotto Zeitaku trip was way back in the very first article in Kagurazaka, and it felt good to be able to visit Hiroo-yu two and a half years after. The bath was crowded with a healthy mix of people from office workers to the elderly, though the average age was slightly skewed towards higher end of 50 and above.
Visiting a public bath in a Tokyo neighbourhood is like getting a glimpse into the essence of the place. Despite Hiroo being an upscale and affluent district with all the modern conveniences, locals still visit the local bath house to relax and enjoy a hot bath. And that, for me, was the perfect ending for an international day out.
Getting There and Around
Hiroo Station on the Hibiya Subway Line is the main station serving the neighbourhood. The one way journey from either Ebisu or Roppongi takes 3 minutes and costs 170 yen.
The Chotto Zeitaku Japan series by japan-guide.com is a continuing project to seek out places that allow us to enjoy the better things in life. Not exactly a sightseeing guide, but one that transports the visitor into a different space to relax and get away from it all.
By Raina Ong, japan-guide.com