For many first time visitors, the flashy Akihabara district is usually in the must-see list. However, if the lights and sounds of this famous electronic district start to look the same, if the long queues and big crowds overwhelm you, if you prefer something more quiet and authentic, there are three not-so-secret places for couples to explore art, history, and Japanese artisanal crafts, all within walking distance of each other.
Tokyo is constantly changing, but the theme of these three places is reimagining how a structure or space can be reinterpreted and used differently. 3331 ARTS CYD was a former junior high school converted into a trendy art space. 2k540 AKI-OKA was an unused space under the Akihabara-Okachimachi train line now transformed into a haven for artisans. Manseibashi Station used to be a bustling train station before the war and is now a quaint shopping and dining complex steeped in history. The magic of these three places is in how the original architecture has been maintained but their understated design allows their new purpose to speak loudly. For couples, walking through these three places is a nice metaphor of how a relationship can change and evolve into something better.
3331 ARTS CYD (Arts Chiyoda)
Tucked away from the main road is the former Rensei Junior High School which closed down in 2005. An enormous camphor tree partially hides that partially hides the facade of the school that has been renovated into an arts center committed to invigorate the local area and bring the community together through various multi-disciplinary exhibits, programs, and events. 3331 ARTS CYD has hosted some 3800 activities since it opened in 2010. The main floor boasts of an avant-garde café, a gift shop featuring original artwork from emerging artists in Japan, a restaurant, and a main gallery. If the main floor is too busy, head up the stairs to the second floor where classrooms have been repurposed into chic galleries for contemporary art. If you’re lucky to visit on a day with a rooftop event, you can walk through an organic garden right at the heart of the city. With a declining birth rate, Japan will find itself closing more schools and 3331 ARTS CYD is a perfect example of how an infrastructure can be reinvented into a creative hub.
2k540 AKI-OKA Artisan
One might not think much of the dark dank space underneath a busy train line but then again, this is Japan where imagination is the limit. The jet black asphalt ground of the complex contrasts elegantly with the white pillars holding up the tracks above. 2k540 AKI-OKA has successfully recreated the artisan villages of the Edo period but with a stylish twist. Pop into one of the shops in this “street” and you will find original, uniquely Japanese products painstakingly handcrafted by artisans who have been perfecting their craft for years. You might find some of them busy at work in their in-shop craft studios. This is the perfect place to get a souvenir like no other.
The Old Manseibashi Station (mAAch ecute Kanda Manseibashi)
Opened in 1912, Manseibashi was a bustling station between Kanda and Ochanomizu. The original station building was designed by Tatsuno Kingo who was inspired by Amsterdam Centraal, but it was destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and eventually torn down when the station closed in 1943. All that remains are the original 1912 stairs, the 1936 stairs to the Railway Museum, and the graceful arches of the red brick viaduct. Partway up the 1936 stairs is a replica of a poster believed to have been put up around the time the station was closing. A touch screen displays fascinating photos related to Manseibashi Station. The platform has been transformed into an all glass café where you can sip coffee as trains speed by on both sides. You will note the sleek use of space under the viaduct. Walk the red carpet leading you through vaulted caverns that have been transformed into cozy nooks and nifty shops. You will be tempted to relax on the wooden deck that runs alongside the river. Be sure to stop by the library in the middle. It has a large scale diorama displaying what the Manseibashi Station looked like a hundred years ago.
Art, artisanal crafts, and history, are all within walking distance in the Akihabara area and provide a lovely chance for couples to share in the joy of discover together.