Nestled within the dynamic streets of Tokyo lie neighborhoods that embody the essence of Japan’s rich heritage and contemporary dynamism – Toranomon and Atago. Renowned as a major office district adorned with sleek skyscrapers and bustling commercial centers, Toranomon and Atago offer travelers a captivating blend of tradition and modernity. Let’s delve deeper into the historical roots and cultural treasures of this fascinating Tokyo gem.

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Discovering Toranomon’s Heritage

Toranomon traces its origins to the Edo period when it was known as Nishikubo, a samurai enclave nestled between the Azabu plateau and Mt. Atago. The neighborhood’s name derives from a castle gate that once stood near the present-day Toranomon intersection, serving as an entrance to Edo Castle. Despite the gate’s removal in the Meiji era, the area retained the colloquial name “Toranomon”, eventually becoming an official place name in 1949.

Nishikubo now corresponds roughly to present-day Toranomon 2-5-chome. Nestled along the west side of Mt. Atago, Nishikubo boasts a rich history dating back to the Edo period. During this time, it served as a samurai enclave, with townhouses lining what is now Sakurada Street. The area was home to various neighborhoods, including Nishikubo Shiroyama-cho, believed to be the ruins of Kumagaya Naomi Fort. In the Meiji era, as samurai estates were dismantled, Nishikubo saw a wave of reorganization and town establishment. Post-war, with the formation of Minato Ward, the Nishikubo area was absorbed into Toranomon. Over time, the name Nishikubo gradually faded from everyday use, with the area often referred to simply as Kamiyacho. Today, while remnants of its past linger in landmarks like Nishikubo Hachiman Shrine, the name Nishikubo has largely been consigned to history.

The Toranomon Incident

The Toranomon Incident, known in Japanese as Toranomon Jiken, unfolded on December 27, 1923, at the bustling intersection between the Akasaka Palace and the Diet of Japan in downtown Tokyo. The target of the incident was none other than Crown Prince and Regent Hirohito, who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by Japanese communist Daisuke Nanba. As Hirohito made his way to the opening of the 48th Session of the Imperial Diet, Nanba, the young son of a Diet member, fired a small pistol at the royal carriage. While the bullet shattered a window and injured a chamberlain, Hirohito emerged unscathed. Nanba’s actions were driven by a mix of leftist ideology and a desire to avenge historical grievances, including the death of Shūsui Kōtoku and the Kantō Massacre. Despite claiming rationality, Nanba was declared insane to the public, swiftly sentenced to death, and executed just two days later. The fallout from the incident led to Prime Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyōe’s resignation, paving the way for a shift in political leadership and the enactment of the Peace Preservation Law of 1925. This dramatic episode in Japanese history underscores the complex interplay between politics, ideology, and societal tensions during the early 20th century.

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Journeying Through Atago’s Past

During the Edo period, Atago flourished as a hub of temples, interspersed with samurai residences. Temples such as Shinpuku-ji, Seisho-ji, and Seiryu-ji stood as testaments to Atago’s spiritual legacy. Over time, the neighborhood underwent administrative changes, evolving from Shiba Atago Town to the present-day Atago Town and Atago Shitamachi.

Atagoyama and Atago Shrine

Rising majestically above its urban surroundings, Atagoyama is Tokyo’s highest natural mountain within the 23 wards, with a recorded altitude of 25.7 meters. This scenic hill, home to the historic Atago Shrine, has been revered since the Edo period for its religious significance and panoramic views of Edo city.

Originally established in 1603 at the behest of Tokugawa Ieyasu to ward off fires, Atago Shrine is also renowned as the “God of Tenkatori” and “God of Victory”. Over the centuries, Atagoyama has witnessed pivotal moments in Japan’s history, from the tumultuous days of the Pacific War to the birth of modern broadcasting with NHK TV’s test broadcasts in the 1950s. Today, while the skyline may be dotted with high-rise buildings, Atagoyama’s verdant slopes and ancient temples offer a tranquil retreat amidst the bustling metropolis. Visitors can explore historic landmarks like the Soto sect Seishoji Temple and the NHK Broadcasting Museum, while enjoying breathtaking vistas of Tokyo’s modern skyline.

During the 11th year of Kanei, a captivating tale unfolded as Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Edo Shogunate, journeyed back from paying respects at Shiba Zojoji Temple and passed beneath the serene Atago Shrine. It was atop Mount Atago where plum trees flourished in a riot of blooms, catching Iemitsu’s eye. Inspired by their beauty, he issued a challenge to his vassals: “Ride up and retrieve those plums!” However, the steep stone steps of Mount Atago posed a daunting obstacle, dissuading all but one – Heikuro Magagaki, a loyal retainer of the Shikoku Marugame clan. With remarkable horsemanship, Heikuro navigated the treacherous terrain and plucked a plum tree from the mountain’s peak, presenting it to Iemitsu. Impressed by Heikuro’s skill and bravery, Iemitsu lauded him as “Japan’s finest horsemanship expert”, ensuring his name echoed throughout the land. This legendary feat gave rise to the moniker “Stone Steps to Success” for the slope leading to Atago Shrine, known today as Otoko-zaka, with its 86 steps and daunting 40-degree incline.

If you don’t want to do the climb, don’t worry! The Atagoyama elevator near Denso-in Temple provides easy access to the summit!

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Exploring Modern Marvels

Toranomon’s allure extends beyond its historical roots, captivating visitors with its modern marvels. The neighborhood is a bustling business district by day, with towering skyscrapers housing multinational corporations. As evening falls, Toranomon transforms into a vibrant nightlife destination, with chic bars and restaurants lining its streets. Travelers can indulge in culinary delights ranging from traditional izakayas to gourmet eateries, savoring the flavors of Japan’s diverse gastronomy.

Toranomon Hills

Crafted by Mori Building and envisioned by Nihon Sekkei, the Toranomon Hills skyscraper complex graces the skyline near the vibrant new Loop Road No. 2, linking the bustling districts of Shinbashi and Toranomon.

Comprising four impressive structures, Toranomon Hills boasts the Toranomon Hills Station Tower, soaring to a height of 266 meters, alongside the iconic Toranomon Hills Mori Tower standing tall at 255 meters. Adding to the allure are the Toranomon Hills Residential Tower, reaching heights of 222 meters, and the Toranomon Hills Business Tower, standing proudly at 185 meters.

The project’s distinct logo, crafted from four sleek black vertical bars forming the letter “M,” pays homage to its architectural prowess and echoes the kanji character “門” from the Toranomon name. Adding a touch of whimsy is the charming mascot Toranomon (トラのもん), conceived by Fujiko Pro, the creative minds behind the beloved Japanese manga character Doraemon.

The roots of Toranomon Hills trace back to ambitious plans dating back to 1946, envisioning a vital arterial road between Toranomon and Shimbashi, affectionately dubbed the “MacArthur Road”, after General Douglas MacArthur, due to its proximity to the United States Embassy compound in nearby Akasaka. Decades of delays ensued, stemming from challenges in acquiring prime real estate in central Tokyo. A breakthrough finally emerged in 1989 with a visionary proposal: erecting a majestic skyscraper above the road and providing refuge for displaced residents within its confines.

Originally designated as Loop Line No. 2 Shimbashi/Toranomon Redevelopment Project Building III, the project formally embraced the moniker Toranomon Hills on March 1, 2013, marking a new chapter in Tokyo’s urban landscape. The complex unfolded gradually, with the Toranomon Hills Mori Tower leading the way in 2014. Subsequently, the Business Tower graced the skyline in 2020, followed by the completion of the Residential Tower in 2022. Culminating the project, the majestic Station Tower reached its zenith in 2023, solidifying Toranomon Hills as a cornerstone of Tokyo’s architectural marvels.

Atago and Toranomon stand as a testament to Tokyo’s rich tapestry of culture and history, offering travelers a unique glimpse into Japan’s past and present. From ancient shrines to gleaming skyscrapers, this captivating neighborhood invites visitors to embark on a journey of discovery, where tradition and modernity converge in perfect harmony. So why not add Toranomon and Atago to your itinerary and uncover the hidden charms of this enchanting Tokyo gem?