Dining al fresco in Tokyo tends to strand you at one or the other end of the value spectrum, that is, either pawning your valuables for the privilege or strawing café au lait out of a cardboard box in front of a convenience store (comrade cheapo Greg covered this phenomenon).
Enter a search for “al fresco Aoyama” and you’ll find prices appropriate to those of a rather expensive shopping district. Cleverly eluding the schism, however, is the Pop-Up building–structure? Box? It is, in fact, three repurposed sea shipping containers placed end-to-end and topped with an open-air balcony–in Aoyama, an experiment in space efficiency and versatility. (Pop-up stores are something of a movement internationally; these low-cost and mobile startups are taking the form of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, even libraries).
The building occupies just a sliver of the kind of fallow downtown lot that is usually converted into microscopic parking space, which in turn charges you rates of varying criminality depending on parking time and part of town. Now search “parking cost Tokyo” and see if you don’t decide to junk your car outright–but that’s a different story for another time.
Pop-Up @Aoyama currently houses Willcom and Irokara, a gourmet karaage chain that also sells 500yen beers and serves it all on the second-floor balcony with a view of the Aoyama-dori. (The unsurprising premise being that it’s more gratifying and less expensive to park yourself there for an hour than your car). The fried chicken is marinated in homemade sauce and served in nine different varieties, including shiso plum, basil, miso, and curry flavors, for 250yen/100grams. Lunch sets of karaage, rice, and various sides are available for 600-800yen. All prices include the feeling of a Tokyo summer at dusk.
Tip: So that’s not cheap enough for you? Bring your own food and dine al fresco at the nearby Meiji Jingu Gaien park or Aoyama Cemetery (except then I think it’s technically a slightly morbid picnic).
Our video guide to the tuna auctions at the shiny new Toyosu Fish Market