It's hard to single out a favourite area in Tokyo: as with any huge metropolis there's so much diversity it feels crazy to pick just one spot. But an area I absolutely loved was Naka-Meguro and what's more, I stumbled across it almost by accident.
Coffee Boy and I were in Roppongi where we visited the 21_21 Design Sight gallery and were wondering where to head to next. Roppongi is an area dominated by two enormous complexes of shops, offices, etc. and is also home to quite a few galleries. But for my money it's all a bit soulless. I'm puzzled why so many foreigners choose to hang out there - although maybe that explains my lack of love for the place. Anyway, we had had enough of malls and chain stores and fancied something bit different. I noticed in the guide book that they mentioned an area nearby that was a good cherry blossom spot. Having already embraced the local obsession with the little pink flowers it sounded perfect so we jumped on the metro and headed over.
Well, what a fortuitous little detour it was. The area was fantastic. There is a canal there that is lined with Cherry Trees that, at that time, were absolutely bursting with blossom. Strung alongside were lovely lanterns that just made everything look so beautiful; and on either side of the canal was a narrow road absolutely full of little design shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
It was totally different to everywhere else in Tokyo we visited and was clearly where the rich boho thirty-somethings that used to be cool kids hung out. I loved it. We mooched up and down the canal crossing back and forth over the many bridges looking for a veggie restaurant that we never found - pretty much the story of our holiday lives - but it didn't matter as it was just such a nice place to be.
One of the things that made me warm to the area was the preponderance of dogs: there were loads. Although I have to confess to not really approving of dressing them up in dresses/jackets/sunglasses, there was one particularly unbelievable sight that I'm glad we didn't miss: the Hells Doggel. A small grey dog wearing - and you're going to think I'm exaggerating here but I promise I'm not - a leather jacket, a leather flying hat and goggles. But he wasn't just strolling down the street: oh no; he was sat on a motorbike in front of his owner with his front paws on the fuel tank riding along. Really, it was the biggest disappointment of the holiday that I couldn't get my camera out of my bag in time to snap a picture.
So, obviously, all that walking around seeing lovely/crazy things worked up quite an appetite. We decided to try a place we had spotted beside a design boutique earlier in the day. All we could see from the street was the door with the place's name, Drole on it and a long narrow corridor beyond. Still, something about it caught our attention so we decided to give it a go. At the end of the corridor we discovered a timbered space filled with beautiful wooden tables and chairs, mostly occupied by local hipsters. In fact, we were the only gaijin in the place. Luckily the menus had some English on and the cakes were all in a vitrine so pointy sign language was yet again the communication tool of choice.
I ordered a strawberry cheesecake and decided to try an iced green tea latte. As I only drink decaffeinated coffee I was really hoping that it would be a success as I'd noticed that these matcha lattes was available everywhere in Japan (and that includes Starbucks) whereas decaffeinated coffee seems to be unheard of except in filter form. As we waited for our goods to arrive I was pleased to note the jug of lemon infused water that was popped on our table and just busied myself with people watching.
When the cake arrived I was a little disappointed in that it wasn't what I thought I'd been ordering (clearly the pointy sign language wasn't quite as successful as I'd hoped) but I needn't have worried as it tasted really good. Although it looked relatively humble it had a lovely flavour of real strawberries and it was accompanied by a scoop of ice cream - just in case there weren't enough calories on the plate already. And even more excitingly the iced green tea latte was fantastic. I was curious how the matcha would work with milk as in its normal form you'd never dream of putting the two things together but it really worked. The bitterness of the matcha worked in a latte in much the same way as a bitter espresso does. It makes perfect sense really but I'm not sure it's something I'd ever have considered if I hadn't seen them so frequently in Japan.
As well as the comestibles being top quality there were lots of lovely little touches in the cafe that, for me, were the essence of Japanese design simplicity. From the jam jar full of daisies on the table, to the lovely crocheted coasters that our drinks were served on, they were nothing flashy but all the more beautiful for that. Even the loo had a lovely scrap of spotty red fabric pinned to the back of the door. It's these kind of details that really made me fall in love with Japan: the way they embrace the simple, hand-crafted and natural. Of course they embrace designer labels like no one else too but there is a traditional side of Japan that makes me wish we hadn't lost so much of our quality craftsmanship here in Britain.
So all in all, one of those incredibly successful unplanned trips that often turn out to make for the best kind of days when you're on holiday. As well as seeing a beautiful area, marveling at some incredibly cute dogs and enjoying the Japanese design aesthetic, I discovered a whole new tea drink that I could enjoy all over Japan. Who could ask for more?