The inspiration people seek: For those not particularly interested in nightclubs or kakure-ga (“hideaway”) -styled restaurants, Nishi-azabu is like another realm. Since the mass-media often portrays the area as a playground for celebrities and TV personalities, many people visit Nishi-azabu expecting as much, only to be disappointed when they see the real thing. The neighborhood around the Nishi-azabu intersection where Gaien-nishi-dori and Roppongi-dori meet does have the form of a shopping and entertainment area to a certain degree, but almost every time you search for the nightclubs and restaurants publicized on TV, you will most likely be reminded how different the reality is from what you saw on that 2-hour Nishi-azabu special the other night.
If you want to see the typical Nishi-azabu that the media always shows, you have to go after the sun is down—better if it’s just after the clock goes past midnight. Still, the majority of people probably usually end up with that, “I don’t really get it” feeling. It’s not as easy to digest at a glance as the clearer images of Roppongi, Ginza and Akasaka as “playgrounds for adults” and the lands of “luxury-brand stores.”
If you wish to see the more “understandable” Nishi-azabu, your mission will be accomplished by simply visiting the Nishi-azabu intersection. Thanks to one of director Quentin Tarantino’s most popular movies, you’ll see a seemingly endless stream of tourists from all over the world coming here and waiting and watching at the intersection’s crosswalks, regardless of the time of day. If your hobby is cars (because unfortunately, few motorcycles come through this area), find a corner of the intersection to “camp out” and bide your time. You’ll realize from the cars that go by that this area does indeed hold true to its image as a place frequented by celebrities. However, this is only something that happens in the middle of the night, so catching an opportune snapshot with good picture quality—and without attracting unwanted attention—isn’t easy.
In short: Nishi-azabu refers to the area neighboring Roppongi, Aoyama and Hiroo. It’s an area with restaurants, bars and nightclubs centered around the intersection where Gaien-nishi-dori and Roppongi-dori cross. The closest subway stations (but still some distance away) are either Roppongi or Hiroo, making a visit to Nishi-azabu somewhat inconvenient. Unlike many other entertainment areas, people don’t begin to get anxious when the time of the last train of the night approaches. Rather, it’s only after that train is gone that the regular patrons of Nishi-azabu truly awaken and the area takes on the same atmosphere as nearby Roppongi.
Some background: Before the area was renamed Nishi-azabu in the 1960s, it was known as Kasumi-cho (literally “Mist Town”). It’s thought that in the Edo Period, the steep banks of the Kogai River (an underground conduit today) often caused mist to appear, just like the name of the area. It’s generally accepted that Nishi-azabu gained notoriety in the 1980s during Japan’s bubble economy. In what is not too old a story, the area became the home for people like celebrities and TV personalities that had hit it big (“danced on bubbles” in Japanese) during the economic boom, but after the bubble burst, the leftovers of their extravagance—while not “ancient” per se—survived the times and can still be seen today.