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Apr 10, 2017

Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees: Shintora Avenue does enough to carve out its own identity

Shintora Avenue, the link between Toranomon Hills and the Shimbashi / Shiodome districts of Tokyo, has been labelled as the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo.  It's a bold call, but then this avenue is key part of bold plans for the capital as it gears up the preparation for the Olympic Games in 2020.




To ‘catalyze international influx’ reads a part of the press release that preceded the 2014 opening of Tokyo’s second tallest building, Toranomon Hills (虎ノ門ヒルズ).  


The Toranomon Hills high-rise was part of a larger project to connect the surrounding district with Shimbashi/Shiodome, one of the capital’s largest ‘office’ areas. You can seen see this link in the form of the Toranomon-Shinbashi stretch of Loop Road No. 2, which opened to traffic in March of 2014.


Word out in the ether was that developers fancied the street an Asian Champs-Elysees, the iconic and historic Parisian thoroughfare. 


Visiting the street today harbouring images of the latter will likely lead to disappointment, but this strip of road and its accompanying sidewalks isn’t without charm. In fact, rather than the grandeur of the Champs-Elysees, Shintora Avenue, as it has become known, combines an odd mix of modern eco-friendly design, straight-edged business function, and the kind of fading back-street residential charm that you wouldn’t expect from big business Tokyo. And for urban Japan, the sidewalks are delightfully wide!


Beginning south-east, the Shiodome end of Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees, affords impressive views toward Toranomon Hills, standing with all the pomp one might expect of the second tallest building in the city, and towering over all the other structures in the vicinity.  


Pick your sidewalk, there’s plenty of space on either, and head north-west towards the Toranomon high-rise, just over one kilometer away. Or, indeed, cycle.  Shintora Avenue is home to some of the best urban cycle lanes that you’ll find in central Tokyo today. There’s even a cycle shop, Avanti Cycles, dealing in high performance road bikes. For those less serious about their machines, the city of Minatu-ku has a bicycle sharing point about halfway up the street, part of Community Cycle operated in conjunction with NTT Docomo (look out for the bright red bikes).  



(Shintora Avenue has some of the best cycle lanes in Tokyo)





Walking up the avenue, visitors to this stretch of Tokyo can take their pick of cafes and bistros, independent fashion stores, and the traditional Japanese confectionery. These and the blunt purveyors of everyday life; the mechanic, the post office, and the nondescript place of desk work.  




One of the latest editions to Shintora Avenue is the Tabisuru Shintora Market (旅する新虎マーケット) which opened in February of this year. Put together by the very lengthy monikered 'Association of Chiefs of Regional Governments for the Revitalization of Regional Economy Taking Advantage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games', the ‘project’ operates under the slogan of ‘The Japan Connect’ which aims to put the spotlight (in a good way) on ‘people, goods, and things’ from across Japan. Themes will be changed every three months of so.  


Currently, Tabisuru Shintora Market has four stands (more like mini-stores) situated up and down the Toranomon half of Shintora Avenue selling regional food and drink, typically at counter-style seating. On the corner of the avenue across the road from Toranomon Hills you can find a larger store (produced by Isetan Mitsukoshi) selling souvenirs and trinkets, and the Tabisuru Cafe, a modern, low rise facility with menus based around the project’s current theme.



(Structures of the Tabisuru Shintora Market)




The current theme, until June, on Shintora Avenue has brought together exhibitors from the Yamagata, Yugawara, Takaoka, Ube, and Imabari regions of Japan under the banner of 木の雅風と薫風 (ki no gafu to kunpu); difficult to translate but something to do with the elegance and gentle breeze of the trees, and more broadly, the delights of spring.  


This unlikely mix of regional flavours, modern design, big business, and ageing Japan, actually come together rather well on Shintora Avenue, and in a way embody the current mood of a Tokyo experimenting with trial and error as it tries to make its approach to the 2020 Olympic Games accessible to international and domestic markets. Shintora Avenue is a long way from the Champs-Elysees, physically and in style. To be honest, the comparison is unfair, ill judged, and not at all necessary. Tokyo is big enough, and creative enough, to stand on its own two feet and do things its own way. No, rather than struggling to emulate locales on the other side of the world, the challenge for Shintora Avenue will be bringing visitors to this part of Tokyo in the first place. Toranomon, Shimbashi, and Shiodome are synonymous with Tokyo office life; salarymen and suits, cheap power lunches, and post work booze ups. Tourists to this part of the capital are likely those that have unwittingly strayed beyond the boundaries of Ginza. But those that make it out of the warren that is ‘Salaryman Town’ Shimbashi, will be rewarded by the touch of class and well-intentioned creativity that can be found on Shintora Avenue.





Details



Toranomon Hillshttp://toranomonhills.com/en/
Tabisuru Shintora Market (Japanese)https://www.tabisuru-market.jp/


Map:



Stay:

High rollers in this part of town might enjoy the ANdAZ Tokyo Toranomon Hills

Those on more moderate budgets might favor the Tokyu Stay Shimbashi located at the south-east end of Shintora Avenue. There’s also an APA Hotel a Super Hotel (Shinbashi Karasumoriguchi) a few blocks south of Tokyu Stay.




Have you ever been to Shintora Avenue?  Think it deserves to be labelled 'Tokyo's Champs-Elysees'?  Know of any streets like this elsewhere in Japan? Let us know in the comments.





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