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The ginkgos of Aoyama

Aoyama is not my natural habitat. It's très chichi, in other words, very fancy, but to say "very fancy" isn't fancy enough. Rather go for faux French.

Despite my discomfort in such refined surroundings, I was lured there by the twin temptations of gold and gods. You could even add sex, since I found myself walking through a fairly shady area in Shibuya later that same day, but that was happenstance rather than forethought. Money, religion and fornication. That covers all the bases, doesn't it?

The gods were at a temple and two shrines – more about that later – and the gold? Ah. That was to be found at what is allegedly Tokyo's most famous spot for ginkgos, Ichō Namiki, the ginkgo-lined avenue that runs from Aoyama 1-chōme to Meiji Jingu Gaien. I avoid it precisely because it's famous, jam-packed and in my arrogant opinion not the best spot at all, but since I was in that area anyway, well, why not?

Ichō Namiki in Aoyama 1-chōme

Beautiful but crowded

I went on Sunday, when it was fairly early in the season and not all the trees had turned gold, but it was still a breathtaking sight against a cobalt autumn sky. It was also crowded, with guards shouting cautions and directions, and mothers with prams colliding with my shins, and fashionistas irritating me with their yapping lapdogs' diamond-encrusted outfits. 

I saw one woman with a … what? Dog. "Dog." Tiny fluffy thingy dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, cap and all, sitting on top of a pole (it was that tiny), getting photographed by an army of coochie-coochie-cooing females. I scowled viciously, ignored the dog and crashed into another oblivious person holding up an iPad in front of her face.

"What's next?" I wondered. "Parasols?"

I panicked, and fled to this:

The ginkgo avenue at Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku

Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku

Now isn't that a thousand times better than battling the hordes of Genghis Khan for a Kodak moment? It's within spitting distance of Ichō Namiki, yet it was deserted. 

This is on the campus of Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku, a Christian university near
Omotesandō, established in 1874 by missionaries from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. It's 701+ on the QS World University Rankings and 201-250 on the QS Asian University Rankings. The University Brand Image Survey conducted by Nikkei BP Consulting in 2010 ranked it 7th in the Greater Tokyo Area and 4th out of the private universities after Keio, Waseda and Sophia.

It certainly has one of the most sophisticated, well-kept campuses in Tokyo, and you can see money dripping from its lintels. 

The Christian influence at Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku

Oopsie! TOEIC test time! :)

The contrast between this private Christian university and the public University of Tokyo is startling: the latter is old but run-down, genteel but shabby, a haphazard collection of styles and organic gardens.

Yet what struck me was how deserted Aoyama Gakuin was on a Sunday. I saw two photographers and not a single other soul. That smacked my gob. I guarantee you that on any Sunday there are students ánd staff on Tōdai's campus: in the labs, in the library, studying, researching, working. (The library is open every single day from 9 am till 7 pm except during the short New Year's Holiday and on the fourth Thursday of each month. Now do you understand my grumpiness once a month? It has nothing to do with womanly curses.)

So, all things in this world being very unequal, I'd rather amble around Tōdai. (Tōdai's rankings? A bit higher.)

This was supposed to be a photo post, and here I am, 580 words later.

The ginkgos will be at their most spectacular in the week ahead, and even a fortnight from now it will be beautiful, because you'll be walking on a yellow carpet.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
– W. B. Yeats

Read more about my ginkgo recommendations here (but caution: Tachikawa is already past its prime), here and here.

That temple? That should be my next post. I've discovered a modern architectural masterpiece, a shrine for mathematics and another wolf shrine. Watch this space. Meantime, more Aoyama ginkgo photos:

Ichō Namiki


A smaller side street leading off from Ichō Namiki

I spotted this on my way to Shibuya via Omotesandō. "God jul" is
Norwegian, Swedish and/or Danish for "Merry Christmas". I can't explain
the shop's linguistic adventure, but the contents are the usual white fluff.

This is the United Nations University, almost exactly opposite Aoyama Gakuin.
The tents in front are a farmer's market.

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