Photo/IllutrationCat Street is an alley in one of Tokyo’s backstreets that is filled with many stylish boutiques, cafes, bars and high-end shops. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Contrary, or "urahara" in Japanese, to its name, Cat Street, located in the “Urahara” area between Tokyo’s Jingumae and Sendagaya, doesn’t have many four-legged felines roaming the street.

There must be, however, invisible beckoning good-fortune cats, or "maneki-neko" spirits living along this street judging from all the brand-name shopping bags people were carrying and the long line in front of a takeout shop specializing in lobster roll sandwiches.

There are three famous streets in this area: the uber-crowded and "kawaii" Takeshita Dori filled with teenyboppers and photo-snapping tourists, the zelkova-lined Omotesando replete with ultraluxury brands occupying buildings designed by the creme de la creme architects from around the world, and the Tokyo hipster hangout, Cat Street.

No one is sure how the street got its name, but people talk of three theories. First, quite simply, maybe there used to be many cats here. Secondly, the area is as small as "neko no hitai," the forehead of a cat. And thirdly, it comes from the Black Cats, a 1980s rockabilly band that’s believed to have hailed from this area and who made the greased-down-with-pomade ducktail hairstyle cool for a certain segment of the population.

Cat Street’s official name is Onden Shotenkai. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), rice was cultivated here. Among one of Katsushika Hokusai’s “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji” series is “Watermill at Onden,” which depicts people working with rice.

The Onden River (Shibuya River) flowed through this area until the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, when it was turned into a groundwater channel. You can see stone posts engraved with “Sandobashi” that mark the Omotesando end of Cat Street.

It’s not difficult to see with your mind’s eye how the river, now paved over, meandered among buildings that today dot the left and right sides and are filled with local designer apparel stores; used and vintage shops; street and athletic clothing boutiques; and restaurants, cafes and bars that serve artisanal foods and craft beverages.

They say that Onden was originally called Komota, or Kakushida, meaning “field in which to hide.” Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, had ninjas settle and lie low in this area.

I’m not sure how this can be verified, but it makes for a great story, doesn’t it? Also, this ninja backdrop is befitting as Cat Street is not as easily recognizable as the other famous streets in the city.

If you’re a hipster, a wannabe hipster or just someone who likes the chilled vibe of hipsters, Cat Street is your main drag.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Sept. 30 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.