Taxi drivers claim that, unless you've lived there all your life, Setagaya is nearly impossible to navigate. Major thoroughfares pulse straight across the second largest of Tokyo's 23 wards, but off the highway a maze of tapering, winding one-way alleys will often as not dead-end you in someone's back yard. Forget the map, bring a ball of string.

Setagaya's labyrinth is made up of residential structures, accounting for over 65 percent of the ward's land use. Its tallest building, Carrot Tower, near Sangenjaya station, represents modern commercial growth in some of the remaining 35 percent. The tower looms over its humble surrounds like a 26-story Minotaur.

Though unlikely to swallow up the local charm of Sangenjaya or the bargain-hunting, thespian-loving youths from nearby Shimokitazawa, vertical urban development and the planned construction of new routes through the ward are certain to alter the character of both areas.