神楽坂 Kagurazaka is a neighborhood in central Tokyo that I never set foot in until this spring. I spent a full day walking around and getting lost in the backstreets of this quaint area, but a few months later I’m still thinking about all the fun I had. I liked the neighborhood so much that I even looked up to see if there were any short term rentals or serviced apartments there for me to stay when I return to Tokyo next time.
Kagurazaka combines the beauty of old Japan with a dose of new and modern Tokyo. Along the main street there are numerous small neighborhood stores mixed in with convenient stores, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. But because of a large French population who settled here (The French International School is nearby), you can find quite a few French bistros and bakeries as well. One can also visit several temples in Kagurazaka (Zenkoku-ji, Buddhist temple from 1595 & Akagi Jinja, a Shinto shrine) but I think the real fun is getting lost in the back alleys and strolling the cobblestone streets behind the main drag. During the Edo period this is where geishas entertained and there are still a ton of restaurants in Kagurazaka called 料亭 ryōtei that can only be visited based on “invitation”- unless you are introduced by someone who is an existing customer of a particular establishment you cannot dine there (一見さんお断り ikkensan okotowari).
It all started with the purpose of visiting my friend M’s furniture store. She and her husband opened Uppie Service a few years back but as I hadn’t been in Japan in a while it was my first time getting to see the store. I knew that the couple traveled frequently to the U.S. to source and acquire their vintage furniture, and it was at Uppie Service’s opening party that H &D (who recently had their wedding ceremony in Seoul) and my dear friends T & J met. Since it was Wednesday, M had the day off and we were able to go out for a leisurely lunch.
It was a beautiful day so I walked all the way to Kagurazaka from Roppongi Hills.
Lunch was at Torijaya, a restaurant known for their うどんすき udonsuki, とりすき丼 torisukidon, and 親子丼 okaykodon. Even before we had a bite to eat, I already loved that the restaurant was in an old house and the staff wore kimonos. We were seated at a table set up in a tatami room, which meant that we all had to take our shoes off first.
Lunch menu at Torijaya.
M & I chose the torisukidon (chicken rice bowl), J went for his usual (shrimp tempura soba), and T opted for the famous udonsuki. I always get a bit nervous having a fire source, especially gas or butane, on the table as I eat. But I guess that’s just my American upbringing. No one in Asia ever thinks twice about it boiling or grilling right on the dining table.
This giant tub of food was just for one person!! It didn’t take long before the whole thing started to bubble up and boil.
My food arrived, too.
We stopped by a gallery to see a photo exhibition, peaked and walked down every alleyway our feet took us.
We noted all the restaurants we want to try in the future.
T and I spotted a little door (which turned out to be the back entrance) and like Alice down the rabbit hole, got sucked into Makanai Cosmetics (Makanai’s logo is a red rabbit). This store was too adorable not to stop by, even for a non cosmetics shopper like me. Its products are 100% organic but more interestingly, their line of natural products was started by the employees of a “gold leaf” company that wanted to improve their own skin. Their history goes back over 100 years. I ended up purchasing a few souvenirs & gifts; rice-bran bags filled with green tea.
We stopped for a break at a place that was appropriate in this neighborhood with a French flair… a few glasses of delicious cidre at Le Bretagne: Bar à Cidre-Restaurant.
Not only were the cidre delicious, the atmosphere in the bar was cozy and comfortable. It also didn’t hurt that the waiter was a good looking young man who was trilingual (Japanese, French, and English). But we had to leave to resumed our exploration, knowing that we still had a lot more of Kagurazaka to cover…
To be continued in part II.
鳥茶屋 (Japanese) Torijaya (English): where we dined was their main store – 東京都新宿区神楽坂 4-2; 4-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo (map). Not far away is their other restaurant (東京都新宿区神楽坂 3-6; 3-6 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, (map)
まかないこすめ (Japanese site) Makanai Cosmetics (English site): 東京都新宿区神楽坂３−１; 3-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjyuku, Tokyo (map); Lidabashi Station, Exit B4a, Other locations- Osaka, Yokohama, Sendai, Haneda Airport International Terminal, Marunouchi Building F3, Tokyo
Le Bretagne: Bar à Cidre-Restaurant: 新宿区神楽坂3-3-6; 3-3-6 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo (map), Creperie is also close: 4-2, Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Lidabashi Station Exit B3, take the street on the right when you see the Bishamon temple on the left (map).