From Pineapple Cakes To Hot Jazz, Minami - Aoyama Has It All

From pineapple cakes to hot jazz, Minami-Aoyama has it allMention Minami-Aoyama to fashionistas and the first thing they’d probably think of would be cool and breezy Comme des Garcons.
To people into architecture, the Jewels of Aoyama, designed by Jun Mitsui, which houses Cartier, and my all-time favorite building in Tokyo, the Prada building across the street, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, are what most likely comes to mind.

Both of these structures are on Miyuki Dori. Wait--there’s a Miyuki Dori in Ginza, too, isn’t there? Miyuki means imperial procession, or royal visit, so Miyuki Dori is a street the emperor used. In Aoyama, his majesty traveled on Miyuki Dori when visiting Meiji Shrine. Today, the street is home to high fashion houses.

Wander the back streets of Minami-Aoyama and you’ll come across an amusing structure named SunnyHills, which is made up of crisscrossing bare wooden sticks. When I saw it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In fact, I’m still not sure--it’s unique. It was designed by the famed architect Kengo Kuma, so many people come to take photos of the building.

I’m afraid, though, that many people do not know that it’s actually a shop that sells Taiwanese pineapple cakes, and that the building is designed to resemble a basket or a pineapple. If you go to check out the building, make sure you step inside and pick up a few treats.

Perhaps one of the first architecturally significant buildings in Minami-Aoyama is the Spiral building along Aoyama Dori. I visited the building before it opened in 1985 to the public with a friend who was working with Fumihiko Maki, the architect, and I was blown away at its grace and mathematical perfection.

The building, designed for the lingerie company Wacoal, is named Spiral for its external appearance and interior structure representing the image of an ascending spiral. It offers a multi-use building with gallery space, interesting cafes, restaurants and shops. This stylish complex doesn’t look like much today when compared to all the new snazzy architecture of recent years, but it’s actually a very special design.

Just off of Kotto Dori is the whimsical Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum and a Piece of Cake, a small cafe that was once the artist’s studio. Unlike many museum cafes, you can use the cafe without paying the museum entrance fee of 620 yen ($5).

The museum was both home and studio to Okamoto until his death in 1996 at the age of 84. I recommend going on a weekday if you can, to avoid the crowds.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the traditional Nezu Museum, which can always be relied upon to satisfy more orthodox and classic tastes. With its enchanting Japanese garden, teahouses and impeccable art selection, it’s a museum not to be missed. I should add that the museum was designed by the same architect as the pineapple cake shop.

So we’ve touched upon fashion, architecture, art and gardens. What’s missing? Music! No column about Minami-Aoyama would be complete without mentioning the legendary jazz club, Blue Note Tokyo.

Bigger and more sophisticated than the original venue in the Big Apple, it has an impressive lineup of artists, both domestic and international. Dress up a bit and put the finishing touches on your Minami-Aoyama outing with great food, drink and vibes, and you’ll have had a real cultural day!