Nestled among the residences of the posh Minami-Aoyama area, it is likely that at first the architecture of SunnyHills will lure you inside. The three-story building stands on a street corner and is wrapped in a three-dimensional timber lattice façade. It is designed by architect Kengo Kuma, known for his desire to return craftsmanship back into architecture in opposition to mass building. He is known to honor craftsmanship especially in his experimentation with timber materials.
Itʼs almost like being inside a tree house; the three levels offer a different canopy view of the trees on the street and the sun that twists through the wooden lattice gives the impression that we are being embraced by many branches. Based on the traditional Japanese jigoku-gumi wood joining system, the lattice is made up of over 5,000 metres of hinoki (Japanese cypress) slats. They have been arranged to interlock by the hands of local craftsmen at angles of 30 and 60 degrees, as opposed to the traditional 90 degrees. This creates the multi-dimensional diamond-patterned structure.
As much as the building itself engrosses me with its impressive craftsmanship, it is the pineapple cake that brings people here. SunnyHills, supposedly making Taiwanʼs best pineapple cake, is the Taiwanese company that commissioned the design and construction of a new pineapple cake store in Tokyo.
Their philosophy is to serve pineapple cake complimentary to guests, a rather alternative business model to what we are used to. We are invited to sit at the communal table occupying the floor space of the small but airy tasting level. Once seated, the cake and a cup of fragrant oolong tea are placed before us, and we are beckoned to try it. The cake is a brick-shaped pastry filled with sticky pineapple jam. It’s different to the conventionally flat Taiwanese pineapple cakes that often sneakily substitute pineapple for melon.
We are bid to go to the third level to view the bathrooms. A strange request, but something I understand as I find myself admiring the sink with more appreciation for a bathroom amenity that Iʼve ever felt before.
Although the tasting is free, keep in mind that this is a cake shop. You are encouraged to purchase some cake to take home. The optional commerce and the eagerness of the staff to share details about the buildingʼs architecture create a unique sense of welcome here. Remember to be gracious and donʼt expect to be able to order anything – you will be served pineapple cake and tea.
11am-7pm. Free tasting and ¥1,500 for a pack of 5 cakes to take home. 3-10-20, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Closest station: Omotesando. www.sunnyhills.com.tw/index/ja-jp