A brand-new village in the heart of Tokyo
Yoyogi is rarely (well, never) highlighted on tourist maps of Tokyo, but one man is on a mission to bring new life to an area that until 1889 was actually known as Yoyogi Village.
Music producer Takeshi Kobayashi is opening up his own, all-new Yoyogi Village and in the spirit of the literal translation of Yoyogi -- "generations of trees" -- it is an eco-park filled with shops, eateries and event spaces around a central landscaped garden.
Despite being a stone’s throw from the station, Yoyogi Village is actually tricky to find, with no signage to its side-street main entrance.
But once stumbled upon, it can't be mistaken, as the entrance itself has the feeling of entering a theme park -- or at least a green oasis within an otherwise standard Tokyo shopping district.
A hull-shaped wooden walkways offer an initial choice inside the mostly open-air complex -- either explore the upper decking and terrace, or walk through a street of cafés to the greenery in the center.
Most visitors seem to choose the latter, then double back, so we duly followed suit.
First up among the stores and tucked in a corner is Pour-kur bakery, a one-off project offering nibbles baked from homemade yeast supplied by the well-regarded Pourquoi in Shonan, or stone-kilned pizza.
The smell of fresh baking wafts across the central street and the glass walls mean you can watch the chefs spinning the dough around before it becomes your afternoon snack. It's a charming touch.
The croissant variants, with plenty of vegetables baked within them, are ¥160 apiece. The slowly-baked pizza is ¥250 for a thick slice.
Drink & Soup Kurkku Lab is the bakery's neighbor, offering juice and soups made from seasonal ingredients and black and herb teas (from ¥350) to refresh the body. Some of the vegetables come from another project funded by Kobayashi's AP Bank, which invests in ecologically sustainable farms and energy ventures.
Tagayasu farm in Chiba supplies the carrots in the tangy carrot lemon juice (¥400). A creamy clam chowder will set you back ¥500.
Caffeine lovers can get their fix opposite at Roots & Beat Coffee, which offers specialty coffee from "The World's Best Espresso Machine." At ¥3.2 million (we’re told) it'll take a lot of joe sales to pay for it.
Roots & Beat says it uses the La Marzocco machine from Italy to blend beans from sustainable farms around the world. For connoisseurs keeping tabs, the beans are 12.5 percent from Kenya, 25 percent from Colombia and 62.5 percent from Guatemala in each drip.
In keeping with the village theme that simple is best, the chalkboard menu offers regular coffee (¥300), espresso (¥300), cappuccino (¥340), cafe latte (¥340) or ice frappé (¥420).
Catering to those who prefer to avoid the crush of the neighboring Shinjuku and Harajuku districts for a quiet late-night bite, Tako Yoyogi izakaya prepares original fried chicken wings and udon.
Its menu is based on the taste of umami, with the udon (¥580) coming from Akita Prefecture. Alternatively, carnivores can tuck into a steak for ¥700. Seating is limited, though, so its best not to bring too many drinking buddies.
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Like all the shops, Post is housed in a shipping container, but despite the name, this isn't the place to ship your mail. Rather, it's a store to pick up a pricey coffee-table tome to show off where you do your book buying.
The concept is for visitors to peruse a periodically changing publisher's catalog by creating a space that showcases their books. It makes for a more educational alternative to spending hours standing and browsing magazines in a konbini, that's for sure.
Back up on the second-floor decking -- probably best avoided on a rainy day, as there’s no cover -- are several fixes for culture seekers.
The Blind Gallery container is a strange one -- self-described as a "fashion and music art laboratory." The opening exhibit by Dutchman herman de vries -- who writes his name in lower-case to “avoid hierarchy” -- was, naturally, concerned with the relationship between humanity and nature. The gallery offers a brief respite from the need to spend money to enjoy all the other eco-shops.
What to wear
Perhaps the container most worth a stop, though, is One Mile Wear, which sells clothes made from organic cotton from farms in India -- also funded by Kobayashi's AP Bank as part of what he calls "an ecological cycle."
In this tiny shopping space are crammed toiletries, china and bags, but the pick of the items are the white, beige or brown t-shirts (a pricey ¥5,565), and cardigans (even pricier at ¥12,600).
Walk past the gardening consulting container (really) for an overview of the garden itself. With explanatory tags next to each plant it's like a green zoo, with specimens imported from Spain, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and more.
The plant hunter who created the space is Seijyun Nishihata, who is on hand with advice should you by any chance have your own garden worth tending in Tokyo.
Finally, if all this learning about the traceability of plants, products and ingredients from the world has inspired you to go and visit somewhere new, H.I.S. Travel has its own travel agency ready to book your trip.
Called Love Peace Travel, it promotes better cultural understanding through “visiting Mother Nature’s creations and experiencing foreign culture.” But it’s still more or less just a regular travel agent at the end of the day ...
In spite of the fluffy, hippy vibe, Yoyogi Village does at least attempt to avoid the trap of presenting environmental awareness as a bit dull and expensive. Beyond the garden lies the main building, home to the village’s most indulgent creations.
The Music Bar, in keeping with Kobayashi's main job, was designed together with fellow producer Shinichi Ozawa.
Targeting roots and new music, like the coffee shop, no expense was spared on the sound equipment, with enormous Tannoy speakers from England and, keeping it old-school, a carefully selected vinyl music library and Linn record player from Scotland.
With its leather seats and dark alcove, it could be the coolest new drinking spot this side of Nishi Azabu.
Yoyogi Village’s best individual draw though, especially for housewives, is the Code Kurkku organic Italian restaurant.
With a high ceiling and wealth of attentive staff, it has the feeling of a eating at a five-star hotel, but at much lower prices and, crucially, the food actually tastes like it’s good for you.
The menu comes from popular Kyoto-based Italian restaurant owner Yasuhiro Sasajima but is discounted so that even full courses of organic food -- including creative salads, risottos and desserts -- are reasonably priced, starting at ¥3,500.
Open from 11.30 a.m. until midnight, our favorite is the chocolate gateau -- full of berries and pistachios (¥1,200).
Getting There: From JR Yoyogi Station take the south exit, or from the same station on the Toei Oedo Line, use exit A1. At the main crossing, head away from the station and turn left down a side alley opposite Starbucks. Yoyogi Village is 30 meters ahead on your left.
Yoyogi Village, 1-28-9 Yoyogi, Shibuya ku, Tokyo. +81 (0) 3 5302 2073.
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