Kengo Kuma is a noted Japanese architect and professor of architecture at the University of Tokyo. He designed the lattice timber stadium that is being built to host the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
My favourite view in Tokyo is perhaps an old inn (not in operation at the moment) called Wakana, a tiny, Japanese-style place in Kagurazaka, the neighbourhood where I live. What I like about it is its atmospheric black fence and its entrance, at which the path suddenly becomes narrow.
Where to live
Kagurazaka is one of the most charming districts in Tokyo. It retains an old townscape and narrow passages. The landscape here is hilly and there are lots of ups and downs. I like this topographical feature of Kagurazaka most, because it makes you feel that you are firmly on the ground and are connected with it. I love walking along small streets and passages.
Where to eat
The next best thing is that there are so many high-quality, varied places to eat — from traditional Japanese to French or Italian food, authentic or casual — offered at reasonable prices. There is even an expression “at Kagurazaka rate”.
I normally eat my breakfast at home, on the rooftop terrace. My breakfast mates are sparrows flying into the terrace. I know they want the grains of rice and breadcrumbs I scatter for them. Though Kagurazaka is located at the centre of Tokyo, it’s still possible to enjoy such relaxing and peaceful moments in this area, so I like it.
I am hardly in Tokyo nowadays, as I need to travel around Japan and the rest of the world for the projects our office works on. However, whenever I can afford to spend the night in my neighbourhood, I often visit an Italian restaurant called Il Bollito. Prosciutto is their specialty, extremely good, and I always order it when I am there — usually late at night, after 10:30pm. There aren’t many places to eat in Tokyo that are open till very late, but Il Bollito is open till midnight, so it’s convenient for me.
Where to drink coffee
For coffee, I go to a place called La Kagu. The building is actually one of our recent projects. It had been a warehouse belonging to one of the oldest publishing companies in Japan. We renovated the building in 2014 and it is now a store selling books, music and other goods, and houses a café.
When you come up from the main street of Kagurazaka to visit La Kagu, the first space you encounter is the wide and large stairs leading up to the entrance of the building. On weekends, people get together here as if it is a terraced plaza, enjoying coffee and browsing around the shop.
Where to relax
I would recommend a sento (public bathhouse) near Il Bollito for relaxation. I don’t go there now myself, but sento is a really important part of Tokyo’s culture that dates back to the Edo period, which ranged from the 17th to the 19th century. The number of sento has been decreasing over the years unfortunately, but I believe it will revive in the near future, as a place of relaxation and close communication for the local community.
Related article: Communal bathing: how architects are awash with ideas
Where to discover culture
Kagurazaka is a small district and it is difficult to find big, purpose-built cultural facilities. However, there are numerous tiny but lively spaces for performing arts — a concert hall for chamber music, a dance studio, a theatre. There is also a famous old cinema loved by movie fans and buffs. I like it that they are all on the street level where you can drop in casually.
Where to work out
As I say, Kagurazaka is one of the most hilly neighbourhoods in Japan. Just walking around can be good exercise. I do so myself. When I’ve finished dinner in one of the restaurants, I try to walk home fast.
Where to be outdoors
I would recommend the Akagi Jinja shrine, another project my studio has worked on. The site is set back from one of the main roads in Tokyo, Waseda Dori. Serene yet lively, I think it is worthy of being called Chinju-no-mori, which roughly translates as “a sanctuary of the village”.
Photographs: Toshiki Senoue; Alamy; Time Out Tokyo; christinayan by Takahiro Yanai/Getty Images; Getty Images