In the early days of the Edo Period, the Tokugawa shо̄gunate decreed that a nearly 90° bend be added to the Furukawa river in order to reduce flooding and encourage the growth of the local villages. The construction team that worked in this area was apparently called Azabu #10. The name stuck. There’s even a shrine called Azabu-Jūban Inari Shrine. Legend says the construction workers erected it to pray for good luck because making a river conform to a 90° angle was an impossible task.
Azabu’s reputation is glamour, fashion, expensive shops, ridiculous rent, international jet setters, and playground of the rich and beautiful. But history nerds can find a lot in this area. If you have a copy of Tōkyō: A Spatial Anthropology by Jin’nai Hidenobu and some good maps, you’ll find yourself weaving in and out of former daimyō residences, commoner towns, samurai homes of every rank, and temples and shrines affiliated with various military houses.
A walk in any direction out of Exit 4 will send you on an adventure illustrating how yamanote and shitamachi were actually intermixed and interdependent. But I recommend following the Furukawa River towards Tōkyō Tower or heading down the shopping street towards Roppongi Hills or Moto-Azabu. Check the maps first and don’t be afraid to hit the side streets.
You can see where Henry Heusken was killed, where Kiyokawa Hachirō was killed, where the first American Embassy was, and much, much more. Oh, and did mention that there are a handful of shops that have been in operation since the Edo Period? I recommend Sarashina Nagazaka and Sarashina Horii (both are soba shops family owned since the Edo Period)[i]. I also recommend Savoy for one of the most authentic napoletano pizzas in Tōkyō[ii].
This station gives you access to:
- Azabu-Jūban shopping street
- Zenpuku-ji (site of the first American Legation)
- The site of the assassination of Henry Heusken
- The site of the assassination of Kiyokawa Hachirō
- The site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s dumb missing grave
- Wanna read my original article about Azabu-Jūban? (not so good)
- Roppongi Hills (the garden is a partial remnant of the Mōri clan’s estate[iii])
[i] Both soba shops are excellent. Sarashina Horii seems to be more popular and has a wider variety, but Sarashina Nagazaka is just as good and less cramped and crowded. Sarashina Horii’s big plus for me is that they have history books about soba shops in Edo-Tōkyō sitting around that you can read while you wait for your food. Sarashina Nagazaka has a stone monument commemorating the location and a photo from the 1860-70’s of the original shop and the shopping street. In short, you can’t go wrong with either shop.
[ii] The chefs can speak fluent Italian so if you can speak the language they seem pretty eager to interact. As a result, from time to time you’ll find Italians here (including diplomats who work at the embassy, which is about a 20 minute walk from here – on, you guessed it, a former daimyō residence).
[iii] The 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence of the Mōri clan was located here. There’s a plaque commemorating the 毛利甲斐守邸跡 Mōri Kai no Kami Teiato Remains of the Mansion of Mōri of Chōfu Domain (a branch family of main Mōri clan in Chōshū). A handful of the 47 Rōnin were held in custody here (and if I’m not mistaken, committed seppuku on the site). The nearby National Art Center Tokyo sits on the former site of the Uwajima Domain (in modern Ehime Prefecture). Tōkyō Midtown sits on the former site of the middle residence of the main branch of the Mōri clan, lords of Chōshū.