The inspiration people seek: When people talk about Aoyama, it’s usually with the image of “the most stylish district in Japan.” It’s an area lined with apparel shops, large and small, famous and unknown, and is said to have the most beauty parlors and hair salons of any place in Tokyo. Like its neighboring districts of Omote-sando, Harajuku, Ura-harajuku and Shibuya, it’s talked about as a fashion town. But what makes Aoyama different is perhaps the impact the fashion shops based there made in giving birth to new eras of Japanese fashion.
In the mid-1960s, dramatic changes came to the fashion scene surrounding the younger generation. The appearance of the “VAN” brand led by Kensuke Ishizu with its “Ivy League Style” orientation and the media attention that surrounded it, won the hearts of Japan’s young people. It created a sensation because it wasn’t just about selling clothes but a comprehensive marketing approach that introduced the American and European lifestyles that the fashion was rooted in.
Like the idea that riding a motorcycle or driving a sports car could be a fashion statement, the changes—concrete and abstract—that the Aoyama-based brand VAN brought to Japan’s nascent fashion world of the time are almost countless. It was the impetus that brought fashion expressions like “TPO” (choosing fashion styles based on the Time, Place and Occasion), “casual,” “T-shirts,” “heavy-duty,” and advertising industry words like “campaign,” “premium” and more.
After VAN, the appearance of brands that led each era, like the NICOL and BIGI brands in the 1970s, and COMME des GARÇONS and Y’s (or Yohji Yamamoto) in the 1980s, and all the media attention they got gave Aoyama the image of the place where era-changing trends were born.
The fact that it was not Ginza or Omote-sando but Aoyama that won the title of “the most stylish district in Japan” may be because it was the place where the Japanese talent for fully absorbing the best of foreign goods and styles and then adding new value to them was put in motion faster and to greater effect than anywhere else. We can see evidence of this in the fact that the New York Times once appraised the fashion magazine TAKE IVY run by Kensuke Ishizu and his friends as “a treasure of fashion insiders.”
In short: Aoyama is the name people use for the area along both sides of Route 246, from around the Aoyama 1-chome (pronounced iccho-meh in Japanese) intersection to the Kotto-dori intersection and the area to the south. But, its official name is Kita-Aoyama 1-chome through Kita-Aoyama 3-chome, and Minami-Aoyama 1-chome through Minami-Aoyama 7-chome. Read more Located here is the Aoyama Cemetery, and it is one of Tokyo’s largest. It is the final resting place for many well-known figures such as those who played important roles during the Meiji Restoration, foreigners who aided in the modernization of Japan and lived out their lives here, and writers and scholars (Shibuya’s famous dog, Hachi, also lies here alongside his master). Along with Jingu Gaien to the north, this area provides a precious island of green in the city, and in the spring, the sakura trees lining the road that runs through the middle of the cemetery blossom into a sea of soft pink.
Some background: Regarding how the area got its name, it’s said that in the early Edo Period, the estate of the Aoyama family (feudal vassals) was established here and this area along the Oyama-kaido highroad (the precursor to today’s R246) came to be called Aoyama Juku (literally “Aoyama lodgings”) or Aoyama Hyakunin-cho (“Aoyama 100-person town”). Also, in the early Edo Period, a branch temple of the Zenkoji Temple of Shinshu (today’s Nagano Prefecture) was established here. The main temple is referenced in a haiku poem by the great poet Kobayashi Issa: Haru kaze ya / Ushi ni hikarete / Zenkoji (Spring wind / pulled by an ox / Zenkoji Temple). Because buildings have gone up between the branch temple and R246, few people notice it today. Read more Entering the Meiji Period, a section of the area became the Aoyama Parade Grounds (which would become today’s Jingu Gaien complex) and the then-deserted land of the Aoyama estate was re-appropriated to become the Aoyama Cemetery. From the Edo Period, this area already had a large influx of people, and in the 400 years since, it has continued to develop as an area where people gather through a chain of events including the creation of Jingu Gaien and Omote-sando, the construction of the Ginza Line—Japan’s oldest subway and the only one in the Far East at the time—and then the expansion of Route 246 in preparation for the holding of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.