If Kagurazaka was a meal it would be pain au chocolat and green tea. This small neighborhood in Chiyoda Ward, just a few stops from Shinjuku, is the epitome of Japanese tradition and French influence. Since it is located in the outskirts of Edo Castle, during the Edo period (1608-1868) it became an entertainment district with many ryotei (a high-end traditional Japanese restaurant) and geisha establishments. Today, the area is a heterogeneous mix of French-style pastries shops, traditional Japanese restaurants, ethnic restaurants, and trendy cafes that boomed in recent years. The area sounds nice, but if you’re wondering what exactly to do in Kagurazaka, we have you covered!
Get off at Kaguraza Station and head over Akagi Shrine, an impressive, contemporary-style shrine whose structure (and the entire premises) was completely renovated in 2010 by the famous architect, Kengo Kuma. Instead of wood, Kengo Kuma decided to try a different approach and made the shrine’s walls out of glass, which confer a sense of lightness and spaciousness to the entire structure. I found it incredible how great of an impact changing materials of a structure can make!
Bathed in light, the shrine combines both modern and traditional Japanese religious architecture which keeps intact the staple elements of a Shinto shrine, like the bright red torii gate at the entrance and the komainu (guard dog) statues at the entrance.
Head over to the southern side of Kagurazaka Station to explore the shelves of a miniature shopping center. A café and food market are located on the first floor, where you can find carefully selected Japanese and foreign products, from rice to Chinese condiments – even unique curry flavors. The second floor hosts a range of pop-up shops, from jewelry to tableware and apparel.
If you’re ready for a quick bite to eat, I recommend checking out the famous Chinese steam buns shop, Gojuban, located on the main street going towards Idabashi Station. They serve freshly steamed hot buns that come with different fillings and in different sizes. I got a nikuman, a pork meat bun, that was literally the size of my hand. If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend buying some buns and then heading over to the nearby park, where adults can take a breather as their kids run and jump around freely in the playground – they’ll love climbing on the slope!
You can continue exploring the area, by heading towards Idabashi Station and then turning left. You will find three small alleys, called Yokocho in Japanese, where you can experience a traditional Japanese atmosphere far from the famous tourist spots crowded with visitors. You can also find many luxurious, traditional Japanese restaurants here, a nod back to the old ryotei establishments. Stop by Kakurenbo Yokocho or Hyogo Yokocho if you want to try a traditional Japanese meal.
To end the afternoon on a sweet note, I recommend finding a table at Kinozen, and ordering one of their Japanese-style desserts. This shop is so famous that it has also been featured on the first season of the Japanese drama Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman. The most popular item on the menu is, for sure, their matcha bavarois served with fresh cream and sweet red bean paste. I must admit, I am not the biggest fan of matcha myself, but I absolutely loved every single bite.
Before heading back to the comfort of your room at Mimaru for some well-deserved rest, visit Zenkokuji Buddhist Temple, a very popular spot in the neighborhood, known for its two tiger statues sitting in front of the Hoiden, or main hall. Buy a small omamori, a talisman sold in major temples and shrines, to bring you luck during your trip to Japan!
So, have I given you any good ideas as for what to do in Kagurazaka?