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Part of the Tokyo's Best Stuff series

INAX XCITE Hill Exterior Communication Space

An amazing outdoor sculpture and modern art garden, an absolute must-see. Ark Mori Bldg, East Wing, 37F, 1-2-32 Akasaka. 1100-1900 Mon-Sat. 10-min walk from Roppongi Station, use Exit-3.

Akasaka, or "red hill," was the name of a hilltop fortress famously defended by Kusunoki Masashige in the Genko Incident of 1331.

In September of 1331, Emperor Go-Daigo put out a call for samurai to join him in his struggle against the Hojo bakufu. Few warlords of any standing were willing to risk the wrath of the Hojo, but Kusunoki Masashige was an exception. Gathering a force of 500 loyal men, Kusunoki established the fortress of Akasaka on Mount Kongo in Kawachi province, where he was soon joined by fellow loyalist Prince Morinaga.

A bakufu army arrived in early November, and promptly laid seige to the fortress. Kusunoki was constantly coming up with clever tricks and strategems - rolling logs, surprise flank attacks, liberal use of boiling pitch, etc. Thus, despite being massively outnumbered, Kusunoki and his men held out for almost three weeks, inflicting an inordinate number of casualties upon the enemy. Finally, the bakufu forces managed to cut off Kusunoki's water supply, dooming the fortress.

Kusunoki realized the cause was lost, but ever the trickster, he concocted a clever plan. On the night of November 20, he snuck his men out of Akasaka in small groups, under cover of darkness. When the Hojo troops stormed the undefended fortress the next day, all they found was a massive flaming funeral pyre, and a lone sobbing attendant who tearfully told the Hojo that Kusunoki and his men had opted to commit mass suicide when they saw that all hope was lost. The Hojo were so moved by this display that they let the attendent go free. In reality, Kusunoki and his men were miles away, and would fight another day.

These days, Akasaka (赤坂) usually refers to an entirely different place -- namely one of Tokyo's central business districts, full of corporate headquarters and expensive hotels catering to their visitors. The Akasaka Prince Hotel and Hotel New Otani, in particular, are some of Tokyo's best known. The area is directly adjacent to Nagatacho, one of Tokyo's prime concentrations of bureaucracy, and only a stone's throw from the Imperial Palace.

At night, however, the other half of Akasaka comes to life: the blocks bounded by Sotobori-doori (外堀通り) and Itsunoki-doori (一ッ木通り) are packed full of expensive restaurants and nightclubs, second only to the Ginza in swankiness. Both Japanese and international cuisine are very well represented, with places like Tenichi for tempura and Shabuzen for shabu-shabu, and others representing Indonesian, French, Mexican, Russian, Indian, Italian cuisines... you name it, you'll probably find it.

The great thing about working in Akasaka is thus that you have a near-endless selection of places for lunch. No matter how high their prices go in the evening -- and you really do have to hunt for a place that will serve you a full meal for under ¥10000 later in the day -- all these restaurants offer excellent lunch menus for ¥1000 or so. During the 6 months we worked in Akasaka, a colleague and I made an effort to eat lunch at a different restaurant every day, and we barely made a dent in the list of options.

Things to See

Probably the only actual sight in Akasaka is the Hie Shrine (日枝神社), located atop a little hill at the edge of the area. Reached by a steep flight of stairs under a veritable tunnel of orange torii, the shrine grounds are an oasis of tranquility in the middle of Tokyo and, in good weather, a popular place for a lunchtime picnic. Once a year, the shrine holds the rather modest Sanno Matsuri (山王祭) festival, featuring the usual panoply of music, dancing, yatai stalls and sake.

Getting There

Akasaka-Mitsuke station on the Eidan Ginza and Marunouchi subway lines is at the edge of Akasaka. The station is connected by a handy, if rather long, tunnel to Nagatacho station on the Namboku, Hanzomon and Yurakucho lines.

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