Omotesandō (Main Approach to the Meiji Shrine)
Today, Omotesandō is one of Tokyo’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It’s famous for Japanese and international brand shops and world-renowned hair salons. Its location next to Harajuku, a fashion center for young people, serves a balancing act making Omotesandō a fashion playground for adults. But what the hell does Omotesandō mean?
A 参道 sandō is the general word for a road that leads up to a shrine.
Every shrine has a sandō, even if the word isn’t preserved in a place name. 表 omote means “front” or maybe better put into English as “main.” If you go north from Harajuku on the Chiyoda Line, you’ll find a station called 北参道 Kitasandō (North Approach to the Shrine). But I digress.
The area was a sparsely populated suburb in the Edo Period and Meiji Period. The shrine was finished in the mid-1920’s and the area began to attract business and residences.
But wait a minute, you say.
The main street that leads up to the Meiji Shrine is called 青山通りAoyama dōri and not Omotesandō. WTF?
Why, yes it is called Aoyama dōri.
Aoyama dōri is not the Omotesandō. It has been and always will be (presumably, I mean) Aoyama-dōri. But beginning in 1920, a bus that traveled up Aoyama dōri to the 表参道 omote sandō began service. The name of the bus was the “Omotesandō Bus.” This is when the connection with the shrine’s omote sandō began. The station that is now Omotesandō Station was originally called 青山六丁目駅 Aoyama roku-chōme eki. Later it was renamed 神宮前駅 Jingū-mae eki. By the 1970’s the neighborhood had a personality of its own, distinct from Harajuku, Aoyama and – of course – the Meiji Shrine, so it was renamed 表参道駅 Omotesandō eki.