Tokyo Re-Discovery

River Runs through Ura-Harajuku

Nov 25 2015

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Tokyo's most fashionable neighbourhood today was a village

dotted with waterwheels and where ninja were quartered.

Walking down the Omotesando avenue toward Aoyama (away from Harajuku Station) for a few minutes from the Jingumae crossing where Laforet Harajuku and Omohara No Mori (Tokyu Plaza Omotesando) are located, you will find stone monuments at the entrance to the walking trail. On them, letters that read "Sando-bashi (bridge on the approach to a shrine)" are engraved.


This neighbourhood, called "Jingumae" today, was once a farm village with rice paddies. The village was later called "Onden (the hidden village for ninja)" as Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, gave the village to his trusted Iga ninja clan to defend the city of Edo. 

There were water mills for rice polishing and flour milling on the Onden river flowing through the village. One of the water mills in Onden can be found in a series of "the 36 views of Mt. Fuji" - masterpieces by an ukiyoe artist Hokusai Katsushika. You can see the piece, "The Water Mill at Onden," on a signboard situated at the side of Jingumae Police Box right next to the entrance to the walking trail.


Around the year 1900, there were as many as 32 water mills in Shibuya ward. However, as the electrification progressed in Tokyo, they were no longer used and disappeared. During the preparation for Tokyo 1964 Olympics Games, the river, which was contaminated by domestic wastewater, was covered, paved and turned into a drainage conduit.

That gave birth to today's Ura-Harajuku & Cat street - a back street with many unique and stylish stores popular among young people. The "Sando-bashi" stone monuments were newel posts of the bridge over the Onden river. 


Cat street runs in parallel with Meiji-dori street that connects Harajuku and Shibuya. There are different stories about the origin of the alley's name including "there are many cats" and "It is as narrow as cat's forehead." ("Cat's forehead/ neko no hitai" is an expression in Japanese to describe tiny spaces.)


Strolling along Cat street, you will find it winding and be pleasantly reminded that you are walking on a stream. As you head from Omote-sando toward Shibuya, you will find more stone monuments: newel posts of "Onden-bashi bridge" and "Miyashita-bashi bridge."

Next time you travel between Harajuku and Shibuya, why not take the back street and imagine what the trendy neighbourhood used to be like back in the day?


If you travel from Harajuku station to Meiji-dori street, we recommend "Brahms Lane" - a secret lane off the Takeshita-dori!


Share if you are tempted to walk along the back streets of Harajuku!

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Miss Echo (Translator)

Born and grew up in downtown Tokyo, she is the true lover of Tokyo’s traditional & unique culture. She does researches as she finds something interesting on streets.

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